Mars Rover’s Underbelly Panorama

Article written: 3 Jun , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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The Spirit rover has now taken two sets of close-up images showing the ground where it has been stuck for several weeks. Spirit used the microscopic imager on the robotic arm to peer underneath her own belly in an attempt to determine how the vehicle is embedded, and if there might be something obstructing the rover. Sure enough, the images appear to show a rock or mound of dirt that might be in the way, but more pictures and tests are needed before the rover team can develop a strategy for getting the rover out of its current predicament. Rover project manager John Callas said using the robotic arm for this purpose was never in the original design book, but it appears to have worked quite well.

Spirit is dug in over halfway up her wheels in soil that varies from one side of the rover to the other. The rover engineers and drivers have been worried that Spirit has dug herself down so deep that her belly might be sitting on rocks, and one wheel may be jammed by a rock.

The camera normally take close-up images of Martian rocks and soil. The technique for using it to look underneath the rover was tested on Spirit’s twin, Opportunity, and it worked well. The first set of images are a little out of focus, but according to an article in New Scientist, Spirit took additional images on Tuesday which showed one possible obstruction, but it wasn’t clear whether it was a rock or just a mound of dirt, and it also wasn’t obvious if the object was hitting the rover’s underside.

In an article in Universe Today last week, Callas said that even though this is one of the worst predicaments either rover has ever been in, he is optimistic about getting Spirit unstuck. “We saw that even on the last drive that the rover was still moving, even though it was only fractionally, based on the wheel spin. So, that tells us material is still being transported underneath the wheels. Given enough time and enough wheel spinning we should be able to get out. If that changes, if we get a situation where we have a hundred per cent slip, then we’re in trouble. But we’re not at that point yet, — even if we’re at 99.9%, that makes a big difference between 100%.”

And if this latest attempt doesn’t work, Callas says they have some other ideas up their robotic arm sleeves. “There are some exotic things we would consider if the more traditional methods don’t work,” he said. We have a lot of arrows in our quiver, or tools in our toolbelt to try first. ”

Sources: New Scientist, previous interview/article with John Callas


7 Responses

  1. feraligatr8 says

    With all the planning that NASA goes through before any of their missions, you’d think they’d have prepared for something this simple. Is it that hard to just install a small lever or something underneath spirit incase something like this were to happen?

  2. Astrofiend says

    They’ll sort it out. I don’t really know why I have such immense confidence in the Spirit team as I tend to be a pessimist by nature, but these guys just never seem to fail! Their record inspires confidence…

  3. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Thanks for the update. I’ll continue to keep my robotic arms crossed for this one.

    I’m assuming it’s the use of “the microscopic imager instrument” out of focus that causes the images to be blurred?

    Btw, it can be a good idea to date or number images. From the text one gets the impression that the set shown is the first set taken (“took additional images”), yet the link claims it’s the second set.

  4. ILOVETHESTAR says

    feraligatr8 Says
    Although you have sound ideas, perhaps in reality upon thousands of hours of testing, small levers or other contraptions underneath spirit would frequently ‘freeze’ in Mars harsh environment and just add more weight and things to go wrong. Future Rover production will address problems unexpected with our present Rovers. Future Rovers will have far more ability to do things than our present Rovers, but, they will eventually ‘meet their match’ and have unexpected problems.

  5. Bravehart says

    Like is was said before, would have, could have, etc…
    It looks to me that it is “high five” and they should be verry carefull or loose the rover!
    Better find the excact location of center point
    and maybe they might be able to tip the rover
    to one side or rear or front? I have no knowledge of the robots arm rotation arc?
    but pushing the rover up on one side could
    put more weight on the otherside wheels
    Time maybe more of an escense than they
    think, since winter is comming soon on Mars.

  6. Meh….I feel this whole mission is becoming stale and boring, the two things NASA & JPL do not need to be known as. Why do we keep getting stuck and why dont the rovers have back up systems for this kind of incident? Its not as if on Earth humans no longer get bogged in their vehicles, why do they expect it not to happen on Mars? We have had enough studies done to prove the martian surface is very similar in to Earth so it should have been expected.

  7. hal9000 says

    Looking at the new pictures from the MER website, I found something I’ve never seen before. It looks like there’s a “stainless steel brush” mounted half-way on the robotic arm, just before the elbow. Take a look at this picture:

    http://marsrover.nasa.gov/gallery/all/2/f/1925/2F297265471EFFB1DQP1110R0M1.HTML

    Until now, the only brush I was aware of on the rovers was the one on the RAT.

    Somebody know what it is?
    Thanks.

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