Weather on Earth is a Problem for Spirit

Image credit: NASA/JPL

A thunderstorm in Australia has hampered communications between NASA and the Spirit rover on Mars. The rover was supposed to use its Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) to grind into the rock 5 mm, but the weather interfered with the commands sent from Earth. When it doesn’t receive orders from Earth, Spirit goes into a stasis mode where it runs checks on its systems, and takes photographs of its surroundings. Engineers are hoping to try again tonight.

Ground controllers were able to send commands to the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit early Wednesday and received a simple signal acknowledging that the rover heard them, but they did not receive expected scientific and engineering data during scheduled communication passes during the rest of that martian day.

Project managers have not yet determined the cause, but similar events occurred several times during the Mars Pathfinder mission. The team is examining a number of different scenarios, some of which would be resolved when the rover wakes up after powering down at the end of the martian day (around midday Pacific time Wednesday).

The next opportunity to hear from the vehicle is when the rover may attempt to communicate with the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter at about 8:30 p.m. Pacific time tonight. A second communication opportunity may occur about two hours later during a relay pass via the Mars Odyssey orbiter. If necessary, the flight team will take additional recovery steps early Thursday morning (the morning of sol 19 on Mars) when the rover wakes up and can communicate directly with Earth.

Full details on the rover’s status will be described in the next daily news conference Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release