NASA’s Mars Explorer Spirit now a stationary science platform

January 27th, 2010 - 2:57 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 27 (ANI): Reports indicate that NASA has designated the once-moving Mars Exploration Rover Spirit a stationary science platform after efforts during the past several months to free it from a sand trap have been unsuccessful.

The venerable robot’s primary task in the next few weeks will be to position itself to combat the severe Martian winter.

If Spirit survives, it will continue conducting significant new science from its final location.

The rover’s mission could continue for several months to years.

“Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“We told the world last year that attempts to set the beloved robot free may not be successful. It looks like Spirit’s current location on Mars will be its final resting place,” he added.

Ten months ago, as Spirit was driving south beside the western edge of a low plateau called Home Plate, its wheels broke through a crusty surface and churned into soft sand hidden underneath.

After Spirit became embedded, the rover team crafted plans for trying to get the six-wheeled vehicle free using its five functioning wheels -the sixth wheel quit working in 2006, limiting Spirit’s mobility.

All the plans to make the rover gradually were unsuccessful.

Even in a stationary state, Spirit continues scientific research.

“There’s a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving,” said Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal investigator for
Spirit and Opportunity.

“Degraded mobility does not mean the mission ends abruptly. Instead, it lets us transition to stationary science,” he added.

One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet’s core.

This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

“If the final scientific feather in Spirit’s cap is determining whether the core of Mars is liquid or solid, that would be wonderful - it’s so different from the other knowledge we’ve gained from Spirit,” said Squyres. (ANI)

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