Wednesday, January 05, 2011

NASA Checking on Rover Spirit During Martian Spring

Nine months after last hearing from the Mars rover Spirit, NASA is stepping up efforts to regain communications with the rover before spring ends on southern Mars in mid-March.

Spirit landed on Mars Jan. 4, 2004 (Universal Time; Jan. 3, Pacific Time) for a mission designed to last for three months. After accomplishing its prime-mission goals, Spirit worked for more than five years in bonus-time extended missions.

"The amount of solar energy available for Spirit is still increasing every day for the next few months," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "As long as that's the case, we will do all we can to increase the chances of hearing from the rover again."

After mid-March, prospects for reviving Spirit would begin to drop. Communication strategies would change based on reasoning that Spirit's silence is due to factors beyond just a low-power condition. Mission-ending damage from the cold experienced by Spirit in the past Martian winter is a real possibility.

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