Having been embedded in a rut of floury sand for several weeks now, NASA’s Mars Rover has successfully used its microscopic imager to shoot a collage of her underbelly.
The tilted image below shows the rover’s dire condition. Sloped at a roughly 20Â¨ angle, Spirit’s wheels are deeply entrenched in the sand. Luckily, Spirit’s chassis appears to be free from major obstructions, giving some hope to crews working out a rescue plan.
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab are studying the images to develop a plan that will free the ailing rover. This isn’t the first time a mars rover has become stuck. In 2005, Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, became disabled by the sand. Opportunity’s foray with powdery martian sand resulted in a month of downtime before slow forward progress inched her into the clear.
Another tactic for removing sand imprisoned mars rovers is to back up the rover out of the martian sand trap on the same path it went in. It is unlikely, however, that engineers will reverse Spirit out of the sand trap. In 2006, Spirit’s front right wheel permanently jammed. Since then, Spirit has operated in reverse, dragging her jammed wheel — making backing up out of her sandy tomb a difficult task.
This news comes after a rough year for the rover. Last year, budget concerns resulted in an attempt to shut down the rover project as we know it. Recently, Spirit underwent a bout of amnesia, and could not report what it had recently done. Engineers were also worried about a possible lock-up in one of Spirit’s middle wheels, which a reassuring roll test suggested no problem existed. One can only be thankful that the rovers have lasted almost 1900 days past their 90 day planned mission.
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