Happy Birthday Spirit!

What were you doing five years ago today? I remember trying to watch NASA TV on my computer in an effort to monitor the status of the Spirit rover that was on its way to land in Gusev Crater on Mars. The feed kept cutting out, and I know it was way behind what was happening in real time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The scientists and engineers there were certainly more anxious than I, but even I had butterflies in my stomach. During the entry and landing, the spacecraft with Spirit aboard maintained radio contact with flight controllers at JPL through a series of tones designed to transmit the status of the lander. The flight team was even able to detect that the lander was bouncing on the surface of Mars, secure in the inflated airbags. But the tones suddenly stopped and there was no signal from the lander for several minutes. The flight control room erupted when the spacecraft sent the signal that it was sitting safely on the Red Planet.

“There was a lot of jumping, hugging and even a few tears of relief here at JPL,” said Chris Potts, who was the MER Deputy Navigation Team Chief back in 2004. “There were definitely some tense moments when we lost the signal after confirmation of bouncing on the surface. Mars just wanted us to wait a bit longer.” The wait was definitely worth it, and now five years later, Spirit and her twin rover Opportunity are still working hard on Mars’ surface. That fact is truly cause for celebration, and there are a few ways you can join in celebrating…

One way to celebrate is to read the three part-article here on Universe Today where we talked with rover driver Scott Maxwell about 1. the rovers’ current status, 2. what its like to drive the rovers, and 3. what the past five years have been like.

Another way to celebrate is to check out Scott Maxwell’s blog, “Mars and Me.” Tonight (Saturday) he is going to start making public his “diary” of the past five years, “The diary of a Mars rover driver, I suppose you could say,” Scott writes in his blog. “I’ve decided to make them public now, as a thank-you to everyone who’s followed the mission for so long, everyone who’s dreamed of being part of it. This is what it was like for one person who was, and still is, part of that mission. This is what it was like to be one person living a small part of a grand, historic adventure.”

Spirit on top of Husband Hill.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Dan Maas
Spirit on top of Husband Hill. Credit: NASA/JPL/Dan Maas

Still another way to celebrate is to listen to Emily Lakdawalla on the Jan. 3rd 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast talk about Spirit’s five years on Mars. The transcript is also available on the site if you’d rather read it.

You can also enjoy Stuart Atkinson’s blog (we’re not related, but he’s a great guy nonetheless!) Cumbrian Sky, where he has put together a great birthday Photoshop image of Spirit, and shares what the last five years have been like for him.

If you haven’t seen JPL’s Five Years on Mars video, I highly recommend it.

Also, the image at the top of this article is a full 360-degree panorama from Spirit’s panoramic camera (Pancam). Click on the image to get the full resolution, and to read the notations which indicate locations for several events of the first five Earth years since Spirit landed inside Gusev Crater.

Happy Birthday Spirit!

10 Replies to “Happy Birthday Spirit!”

  1. Amen to that! Spirit was aptly named to suffer all the hard luck experiences and trials on the Martian surface that it has been through.

    Although Spirit’s explorations haven’t been as dramatic as Opportunity’s have been, the landscapes and subtle revelations of the Martian geology have been amazing.

    I love these machines. Keep them going.

  2. You know, if someone were to design a scale model remote control version of these things, they’d probably be pretty damn popular, Maybe there’s a revenue source for NASA.

    At any rate, here’s to five years, Bravo Zulu!

  3. Great work to all involved. I can’t even keep my remote helicopter going for five years and I can touch it with my own hands.


  4. In all fairness, to achieve the kind of reliability ‘overkill’ these rovers have displayed (for an environment Earth vehicles don’t face*), there was a degree of fabrication, design and testing that would make a car produced that way, well, astronomical in price…

    And even so, one rover has a locked-up wheel that it must drag.

    * And I don’t just mean that the rovers must work remotely in a dusty place of low atmospheric pressures and extremely low temperatures, but also that they *don’t* have to operate at highway speeds, possibly very elevated summer/desert temperatures (inside and out), frequent starting, stopping, vibration, salt, slush, rain, snow, corrosion from various sources, questionable owner care and maintenance, much lower quality control by the manufacturer, the built-in assumption that repair *will* be possible, so it doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’…no, it’s not easy to be an Earth vehicle, folks. Think about what your car has to deal with, that those little guys do not.

  5. I started keeping a scrapbook of newclippings of the rovers, but it died off when most of the info was online instead of in the papers. I haven’t added to it since late 2004

    Aside from the occasional blurb, the newspapers treat the rovers as if the only thing interesting about them is that they’re still there.

  6. Comcast only carries NASA TV on one of its public access channels, and even at that, only during the “off” hours of the day. If a launch or a landing happens between 9:00 PM and 8:00 AM, I can watch the entire event.

    It was quite a ride.

  7. Why did Nasa have no experiment to test for life?, when even Beagle and Viking did. Is it because they already know its there?

  8. Happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday to you…. Happy Birthday, dear Spirit…Happy Birthday to you! And many more!!!

  9. Happy Birthday Brave little Machines with Big Hearts that “Can”
    and don’t know what “I cant ” means !!!

    The comparison to the canine kind of “Rovers” is significant.

    They will work their hearts out for you and die for you in the end .

    These two Rovers named Spirit and Opportunity are truly all Space Advocate’s , JPL’s and NASA’s best friends .

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