Goodbye, Spirit (NASA gives up attempts to contact the dead rover)

May 25, 2011

Credit: NASA

NASA has officially given up efforts to contact the presumably dead Mars rover Spirit. Things started going downhill for the rover back in the Spring of 2010 after attempts to free it from a mound of sand were unsuccessful. The rover was in a bad position for its solar panels to absorb power from the sun, and with the impending martian winter, engineers put Spirit into a sort of “hibernation” mode. They feared that the rover didn’t have enough power to run its heaters which protect the circuitry from the -125 °F temperatures that can occur during winter. Those fears appear to be correct, because now that we’re well into the Martian spring (for Spirit’s location), the solar panels should have collected plenty of power to run the communications equipment. But the rover has been silent for several months now, and the engineers believe the rover is truly dead.

The good news is that Spirit’s twin, Opportunity, is still going strong on the other side of the Mars, with no problems whatsoever. And furthermore, the death of Spirit comes after over 6 YEARS of operation. Loads and loads of valuable data have been gained from the rover, and it has lasted 25 TIMES its expected lifespan of a few months. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these twin rovers are arguably NASA’s second greatest achievement, behind putting a man on the moon. For more, read Phil Plait’s post on this, or go straight to the source, NASA.

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