Mars Kicking Spirit When She’s Down

The Spirit rover has been stuck in loose soil on Mars for several months now, and just as the rover team is preparing to execute maneuvers to attempt to free Spirit, a dust storm hits. Is Mars an unforgiving planet or what? The amount of electricity generated by the solar panels on Spirit has been declining for the past several Martian days, or sols, because of the storm, and Spirit’s daily activities have been trimmed. Those watching over the rover are keeping an eye on weather reports from observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. While the rover team at JPL are keeping their “spirits” up, a recent image from the rover indicates Spirit herself might be getting frustrated with her string of bad luck:

Get me out of here! Credit: NASA/JPL, image enhancement by Stuart Atkinson
Get me out of here! Credit: NASA/JPL, image enhancement by Stuart Atkinson

Thanks to Stuart Atkinson from Cumbrian Sky for his image spoof!

Spirit’s solar panels generated 392 watt-hours during the mission’s Sol 2006 (Aug. 24, 2009), down from 744 watt-hours five sols earlier, but still generous compared with the 240 watt-hours per sol that was typical before a series of panel-cleaning events about four months ago.

“We expect that power will improve again as this storm passes, but we will continue to watch this vigilantly,” said JPL’s John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin, Opportunity. “Spirit remains power positive with healthy energy margins and charged batteries. The weather prediction from the Mars Color Imager team is that the storm is abating, but skies will remain dusty over Spirit for the next few sols.”

Recent images from the Mars Color Imager camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed this regional storm becoming less extensive Monday even as it shifted southward so that its southern edge covered the Gusev Crater area where Spirit is working. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, which operates that camera, provides frequent weather updates to the rover team. Check out weekly weather reports here.

Meanwhile, in JPL’s In-Situ Instrument Laboratory, the rover team is continuing testing of strategies for getting Spirit out of a patch of soft soil where it is embedded on Mars. On Sol 2005 (Aug. 23, 2009) Spirit used its panoramic camera to examine the nature of how soil at the site has stuck to the rover’s middle wheels. The team has also used Spirit’s rock abrasion tool as a penetrometer to measure physical properties of the soil around Spirit by pressing into the soil with three different levels of force. The team is aiming to start sending drive commands to Spirit in September.

Source: JPL

14 Replies to “Mars Kicking Spirit When She’s Down”

  1. Two ideas to revolutionize space travel:
    “Windshield wipers” and “Snow Shovel”

    Once again I await my NASA check in the mail…

  2. I wonder how far the batteries themselves have deteriorated after all these years? It’s been 5 years now?

  3. I hope the MSL engineers are taking note. It would be a bloody disaster if the MSL got stuck in the mud. We need deployable claws for the wheels or something!

    # Dave Finton Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    “Was this the inspiration for the image? =D”

    Pure gold. Love the following line:

    “Once, when we radioed her to please leave the lecturing and hypothesis-making to the mission project team, she responded by forming her robotic arm into an obscene gesture,” Banerdt said. “That arm contains a state-of-the-art spectrometer meant to provide crucial mineralogy data.”

  4. “”Windshield wipers” and “Snow Shovel””

    You forgot headlights. I might be mistaken, but I believe there’s a lack of nightly drives and photos. Oh, and it may also help avoid roadkill and hitting any opportunity drivers.

    [Yes, how about that, btw? Shouldn’t ROI on Curiosity go up with lights and round-the-clock-operation? Or are they there/unnecessary?]

  5. Good point on the headlights actually.
    With previous rovers it made sense to shut down at night for solar power concerns.
    If curiosity is using nuclear batteries, why let the giant space roomba slack off for half a sol?

  6. “Is Mars an unforgiving planet or what?”

    Taking it seriously: Pure physical nature is nothing like “forgiving”, and things like that — something hitting an already weak apparatus — will happen again and again on the way out there.

  7. @Duncan: So what you’re saying is that mother nature really hates it when we try to anthropomorphize her?

  8. Dave Finton Says
    What Duncan is trying to say is mother nature is like a mute,carnivorous beast. Humans interaction with humans-if I was crazy and owed much money to a drug dealer and he had a gun at my head, I can plead, beg and cry for mercy, perhaps I can be spared however slight that will be, but there is that chance.!!! But if I was crazy again to be face to face with a polar bear, pleading , begging, praying and crying for mercy means nothing to the bear, LUNCH IS LUNCH!!!!!!

  9. Maxwell, thanks. After making that comment, I come up with one drawback, besides the obvious of higher risk. They will have to stop and plan once in a while.

    But the added flexibility would be worth something I would think, potentially outweighing the costs. So I’m still wondering.

    the giant space roomba


    Thanks, now I’ll never look seriously on these toys again.

    [Though they _do_ have roomba-like design. They seem to be efficient dust collectors, for one. :-/]

    May be, I did not make it clear enough. By using the term “pure physical nature” I wanted to exclude living creatures like e.g. a polar bear. Because a bear is at least a mammal — instinct-wise a close relative 😉 — pleading, begging, praying and crying for mercy might work.

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