NASA’s Mars rover ‘Spirit’ ‘feared lost forever after it passes a yr in silence’

March 30th, 2011 - 5:42 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Mar 30 (ANI): It has been more than a year since Mars rover ‘Spirit’ last contacted Earth, and NASA now fears it will never hear from it again.

The U.S. space agency’s mission controllers last heard from the stuck ‘Spirit’ on March 22, 2010.

Despite the dismal outlook, NASA engineers are trying to make last-ditch efforts to communicate with the rover, reports the Daily Mail.If there is still no contact in the next month or so, NASA will scale back its listening campaign for Spirit and focus on its healthy twin, ‘Opportunity’.

Program manager John Callas, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, admitted that the fact ‘Spirit’ has not called home suggested that something was more seriously wrong than just a power issue.

The solar-powered rover became bogged in a sand trap in 2009 during a routine drive. Despite efforts to wiggle free, it remained stuck and could not tilt itself towards the sun as the Martian winter approached.

During previous Martian winters the rover found a slope to maximise the small amount of sun it receives, as the low angle of sunlight during these months limits the power generated from its solar panels.’Spirit’ is designed to wake up from its hibernation and communicate with Earth when its battery charge is adequate. But if the batteries have lost too much power, Spirit’s clock may stop and lose track of time.

The rover could still reawaken, but it would not know the time of day, a situation called a ‘mission-clock fault’.

Ground controllers are paging ‘Spirit’ over a range of frequencies and at various times during the day in case its internal clock stopped working and it lost track of time.

They also are commanding the rover to turn on its backup radio transmitter in case the main one died.

At some point, NASA will have to declare Spirit lost if there’s no word.

When that happens, efforts will be reduced to sporadic listening for it until the end of the year.

Spirit and Opportunity parachuted to opposite sides of Mars in 2004. Both have worked beyond their original, three-month mission during which they discovered geologic evidence of water on the Red Planet. (ANI)

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