January 26, 2010

Permanently Stationary Spirit

Spirit's Last Tracks Before It Got Stuck

Previously, I wrote about the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit being embedded in a patch of rocky Martian soil. NASA today designated Spirit to be no longer fully mobile. The decision is taking place after months of effort and numerous commands for movement that have failed at moving the robot.

However, the important aspect of this news is that the rover is not dead, and is actually still able to perform many observations and contribute to scientific research. Previously, these types of observations and experiments may have been ignored to make time for other experiments while driving. For example, Spirit is now studying the small wobbling movements in the rotation of Mars with radio-tracking to learn about the red planets core, such as if it is liquid or solid. The robot may also additionally study the composition of the nearby Martian soil and the characteristics of the Martian atmosphere, among many other topics.

Still, the most important movements Spirit will have to make before it can begin its work will probably be to better position itself for the coming winter. The rover will need to adjust the positioning of its solar panels to collect enough power from the low rising sun in the winter time. The power will allow the robot to warm its internal components during the harsh cold winter. The positioning and additional power will also allow better communication with the Earth.

Although Spirit may not still be able to make the same track, like its last tracks pictured above, it has still surpassed all original expectations, lasting much longer than its intended 90-day mission since January 2004. Although "Troy" (the nickname for its current location) will be its final resting place, Spirit will continue performing valuable work as long as possible.

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