Opportunity Robustly in Action on 12th Anniversary of Red Planet Touchdown

Composite hazcam camera image (left) shows the robotic arm in motion as NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity places the tool turret on the target named "Private John Potts" on Sol 4234 to brush away obscuring dust.  Rover is actively working on the southern side of "Marathon Valley" which slices through western rim of Endeavour Crater.  On Sol 4259 (Jan. 16,  2016), Opportunity completed grinds with the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) to exposure rock interior for elemental analysis, as seen in mosaic (right) of four up close images taken by  Microscopic Imager (MI).  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Composite hazcam camera image (left) shows the robotic arm in motion as NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity places the tool turret on the target named “Private John Potts” on Sol 4234 to brush away obscuring dust. Rover is actively working on the southern side of “Marathon Valley” which slices through western rim of Endeavour Crater. On Sol 4259 (Jan. 16, 2016), Opportunity completed grinds with the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) to exposure rock interior for elemental analysis, as seen in mosaic (right) of four up close images taken by Microscopic Imager (MI). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s world famous Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity continues blazing a daily trail of unprecedented science first’s, still swinging her robotic arm robustly into action at a Martian “Mining Zone” on the 12th anniversary of her hair-raising Red Planet touchdown this week, a top rover scientist told Universe Today.

“Looks like a mining zone!” Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis, explained to Universe Today. On Jan. 24 the rover marked 4267 Sols and a dozen years and counting exploring Mars. Continue reading “Opportunity Robustly in Action on 12th Anniversary of Red Planet Touchdown”

Spirit Retrospective: Top Shots on 10th Year Since Mars Touchdown

A Moment Frozen in Time
On May 19th, 2005, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this stunning view as the Sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. This Panoramic Camera (Pancam) mosaic was taken around 6:07 in the evening of Sol 489. The terrain in the foreground is the rock outcrop “Jibsheet,” a feature that Spirit has been investigating for several weeks (rover tracks are dimly visible leading up to “Jibsheet”). The floor of Gusev crater is visible in the distance, and the Sun is setting behind the wall of Gusev some 80 km (50 miles) in the distance.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Texas A&M/Cornell
See photo gallery below[/caption]

Today it’s hard to imagine a Mars without Spirit.

But a decade ago, NASA’s six wheeled Spirit rover was but a promise of great things to come. And her rich Martian scientific heritage we know today was but a dream yet to ensue

Jan. 3 marks the 10th anniversary since her touchdown on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004. Her twin sister Opportunity soft landed 3 weeks later on Jan. 24, 2004.

So here’s a collection of some of Spirit’s greatest hits on the Red Planet for all to enjoy and remember her fabulous exploits.

Read my detailed new overview marking ‘Spirits 10 Years on Mars’ – here – with even more spectacular Red Planet imagery!

Empty Nest. Spirit rover images her Lander Platform after egress following touchdown in January 2004.  Lander had 3-petals and airbags. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Empty Nest. Spirit rover images her Lander Platform after egress following touchdown in January 2004. Lander had 3-petals and airbags. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Since the golf cart sized Spirit snapped over 128,000 raw images, drove 4.8 miles and ground into 15 rock targets we can’t show everything.

Here’s a retrospective of some of our favorites.

In this selfie, Spirit shows her solar panels gleaming in the Martian sunlight and carrying only a thin veneer of dust two years after the rover landed and began exploring the red planet. Spirit's panoramic camera took this mosaic of images on Sol 586 (Aug. 27, 2005), as part of a mammoth undertaking. The vertical projection used here produces the best view of the rover deck itself, though it distorts the ground and antennas somewhat. This image is an approximate true-color rendering that combines images taken through the camera's 600-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
In this selfie, Spirit shows her solar panels gleaming in the Martian sunlight and carrying only a thin veneer of dust two years after the rover landed and began exploring the red planet. Spirit’s panoramic camera took this mosaic of images on Sol 586 (Aug. 27, 2005), as part of a mammoth undertaking. The vertical projection used here produces the best view of the rover deck itself, though it distorts the ground and antennas somewhat. This image is an approximate true-color rendering that combines images taken through the camera’s 600-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

During her more than six year lifetime spanning until March 2010, Spirit discovered compelling evidence that ancient Mars exhibited hydrothermal activity, hot springs and volcanic explosions flowing with water.

“Spirit’s big scientific accomplishments are the silica deposits at Home Plate, the carbonates at Comanche, and all the evidence for hydrothermal systems and explosive volcanism, Rover Principal Investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University, explained to me in an earlier interview.

“What we’ve learned is that early Mars at Spirit’s site was a hot, violent place, with hot springs, steam vents, and volcanic explosions. It was extraordinarily different from the Mars of today.”

Meanwhile, NASA’s new Curiosity rover just celebrated 500 Sols on Mars and is speeding towards Mount Sharp from inside Gale Crater – which is about the same size as Gusev crater.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Mars rover, Curiosity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM and more news.

Ken Kremer

The "Columbia Hills" in Gusev Crater on Mars. "Husband Hill" is 3.1 kilometers distant. Spirit took this mosaic of images with the panoramic camera at the beginning of February, 2004, less than a month after landing on Mars.  Spirit soon drove to the Columbia Hills and climbed to the summit of Husband Hill.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
The “Columbia Hills” in Gusev Crater on Mars. “Husband Hill” is 3.1 kilometers distant. Spirit took this mosaic of images with the panoramic camera at the beginning of February, 2004, less than a month after landing on Mars. Spirit soon drove to the Columbia Hills and climbed to the summit of Husband Hill. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Summit Panorama with Rover Deck  The panoramic camera on Spirit took the hundreds of images combined into this 360-degree view, the "Husband Hill Summit" panorama. The images were acquired on Spirit's sols 583 to 586 (Aug. 24 to 27, 2005), shortly after the rover reached the crest of "Husband Hill" inside Mars' Gusev Crater. The panoramic camera shot 653 separate images in 6 different filters, encompassing the rover's deck and the full 360 degrees of surface rocks and soils visible to the camera from this position. This was the first time the camera has been used to image the entire rover deck and visible surface from the same position. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Summit Panorama with Rover Deck The panoramic camera on Spirit took the hundreds of images combined into this 360-degree view, the “Husband Hill Summit” panorama. The images were acquired on Spirit’s sols 583 to 586 (Aug. 24 to 27, 2005), shortly after the rover reached the crest of “Husband Hill” inside Mars’ Gusev Crater. The panoramic camera shot 653 separate images in 6 different filters, encompassing the rover’s deck and the full 360 degrees of surface rocks and soils visible to the camera from this position. This was the first time the camera has been used to image the entire rover deck and visible surface from the same position. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Carbonate-Containing Martian Rocks discovered by Spirit Mars Rover.  Spirit collected data in late 2005 which confirmed that the Comanche outcrop contains magnesium iron carbonate, a mineral indicating the past environment was wet and non-acidic, possibly favorable to life. This view was captured during Sol 689 on Mars (Dec. 11, 2005). The find at Comanche is the first unambiguous evidence from either Spirit or Opportunity for a past Martian environment that may have been more favorable to life than the wet but acidic conditions indicated by the rovers' earlier finds. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
Carbonate-Containing Martian Rocks discovered by Spirit Mars Rover. Spirit collected data in late 2005 which confirmed that the Comanche outcrop contains magnesium iron carbonate, a mineral indicating the past environment was wet and non-acidic, possibly favorable to life. This view was captured during Sol 689 on Mars (Dec. 11, 2005). The find at Comanche is the first unambiguous evidence from either Spirit or Opportunity for a past Martian environment that may have been more favorable to life than the wet but acidic conditions indicated by the rovers’ earlier finds. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
Everest Panorama from Husband Hill summit. It took Spirit three days, sols 620 to 622 (Oct. 1 to Oct. 3, 2005), to acquire all the images combined into this mosaic, called the "Everest Panorama". Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
Everest Panorama from Husband Hill summit. It took Spirit three days, sols 620 to 622 (Oct. 1 to Oct. 3, 2005), to acquire all the images combined into this mosaic, called the “Everest Panorama”. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
Spirit Mars rover - view from Husband Hill summit. Spirit snapped this unique self portrait view from the summit of Husband Hill inside Gusev crater on Sol 618 on 28 September 2005.  The rovers were never designed or intended to climb mountains. It took more than 1 year for Spirit to scale the Martian mountain.  This image was created from numerous raw images by an international team of astronomy enthusiasts and appeared on the cover of the 14 November 2005 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and the April 2006 issue of Spaceflight magazine.  Also selected by Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on 28 November 2005. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Doug Ellison/Bernhard Braun/Ken Kremer
Spirit Mars rover – view from Husband Hill summit. Spirit snapped this unique self portrait view from the summit of Husband Hill inside Gusev crater on Sol 618 on 28 September 2005. The rovers were never designed or intended to climb mountains. It took more than 1 year for Spirit to scale the Martian mountain. This image was created from numerous raw images by an international team of astronomy enthusiasts and appeared on the cover of the 14 November 2005 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and the April 2006 issue of Spaceflight magazine. Also selected by Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on 28 November 2005. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Doug Ellison/Bernhard Braun/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com
'Calypso' Panorama of Spirit's View from 'Troy'. This full-circle view from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the terrain surrounding the location called "Troy," where Spirit became embedded in soft soil during the spring of 2009. The hundreds of images combined into this view were taken beginning on the 1,906th Martian day (or sol) of Spirit's mission on Mars (May 14, 2009) and ending on Sol 1943 (June 20, 2009). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
‘Calypso’ Panorama of Spirit’s View from ‘Troy’. This full-circle view from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the terrain surrounding the location called “Troy,” where Spirit became embedded in soft soil during the spring of 2009. The hundreds of images combined into this view were taken beginning on the 1,906th Martian day (or sol) of Spirit’s mission on Mars (May 14, 2009) and ending on Sol 1943 (June 20, 2009). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
Spirit examined spectacular layered rocks exposed at "Home Plate." The rover has drove around the northern and eastern edges of Home Plate. Before departing, Spirit took this image showing some of the most complex layering patterns seen so far at this location. Scientists suspect that the rocks at Home Plate were formed in the aftermath of a volcanic explosion or impact event, and they are investigating the possibility that wind may also have played a role in redistributing materials after such an event. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Spirit examined spectacular layered rocks exposed at “Home Plate.” The rover has drove around the northern and eastern edges of Home Plate. Before departing, Spirit took this image showing some of the most complex layering patterns seen so far at this location. Scientists suspect that the rocks at Home Plate were formed in the aftermath of a volcanic explosion or impact event, and they are investigating the possibility that wind may also have played a role in redistributing materials after such an event. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Spirit Rover traverse map from Gusev Crater landing site to Home Plate: 2004 to 2011
Spirit Rover traverse map from Gusev Crater landing site to Home Plate: 2004 to 2011
Spirit Rover traverse map from Husband Hill to resting place at Home Plate: 2004 to 2011
Spirit Rover traverse map from Husband Hill to resting place at Home Plate: 2004 to 2011

Spirit Rover Landed on Mars 10 Years Ago Today

Ten Years Ago, Spirit Rover Lands on Mars
This bird’s-eye view from August 2005 combines a self-portrait of the spacecraft deck and a panoramic mosaic of the Martian surface as viewed by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. The rover’s solar panels are still gleaming in the sunlight, having acquired only a thin veneer of dust two years after the rover landed and commenced exploring the red planet. Spirit captured this 360-degree panorama on the summit of “Husband Hill” inside Mars’ Gusev Crater. During the period from Spirit’s Martian days, or sols, 583 to 586 (Aug. 24 to 27, 2005), the rover’s panoramic camera acquired the hundreds of individual frames for this largest panorama ever photographed by Spirit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
See Spirit’s 1st and last panoramas and more imagery below[/caption]

Today, Jan. 3, marks the 10th anniversary since the safe landing of NASA’s renowned Spirit rover on the plains of Mars on Jan. 3, 2004.

Spirit comprises one half of NASA’s now legendary pair of Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). Opportunity, her twin sister landed, on the opposite side of the Red Planet three weeks later – on Jan. 24, 2004. The goal was to “follow the water” as a potential enabler for past Martian microbes if they ever existed.

Together, the long-lived, golf cart sized robots proved that early Mars was warm and wet, billions of years ago – a key finding in the search for habitats conducive to life beyond Earth.

Exactly a decade ago, the famous robot survived the scorching atmospheric heating of the 6 minute plunge through the thin Martian atmosphere, bounced some two dozen times cocooned inside cushioning airbags, and gradually rolled to a stop inside 100 mile wide Gusev Crater. It was known as the “6 minutes of Terror”.

The three petaled landing pad opened and Spirit was dramatically born in a milestone event that will be forever remembered in the annuls of history because of the groundbreaking scientific discoveries that ensued and the unbelievable longevity of the twins.

Ten Years Ago, Spirit Rover Lands on Mars . This mosaic image taken on Jan. 4, 2004, by the navigation camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, shows a 360 degree panoramic view of the rover on the surface of Mars.   Spirit operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. Credit: NASA/JPL
Ten Years Ago, Spirit Rover Lands on Mars
This mosaic image taken on Jan. 4, 2004, by the navigation camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, shows a 360 degree panoramic view of the rover on the surface of Mars. Spirit operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. Credit: NASA/JPL

Before they were launched atop Delta II rockets in the summer of 2003 from Cape Canaveral, the dynamic, solar powered robo duo were expected to last a mere three months – with a ‘warranty’ of 90 Martian days (Sols).

Either dust accumulation on the life giving solar panels, an engineering issue or the extremely harsh Martian environment was expected to somehow terminate them mercilessly.

In reality, both robots enormously exceeded expectations and accumulated a vast bonus time of exploration and discovery in numerous extended mission phases.

'McMurdo' Panorama from Spirit's 'Winter Haven' . This beautiful scene reveals a tremendous amount of detail in Spirit's surroundings at a place called "Winter Haven," where the rover spent many months parked on a north-facing slope in order to keep its solar panels pointed toward the sun for the winter. During this time, it captured several images to create this high resolution panorama. During that time, while the rover spent the daylight hours conducting as much scientific research as possible, science team members assigned informal names to rock outcrops, boulders, and patches of soil commemorating exploration sites in Antarctica and the southernmost islands of South America. Antarctic bases are places where researchers, like the rovers on Mars, hunker down for the winter in subzero temperatures. During the past Martian winter, Spirit endured temperatures lower than minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
‘McMurdo’ Panorama from Spirit’s ‘Winter Haven’
This beautiful scene reveals a tremendous amount of detail in Spirit’s surroundings at a place called “Winter Haven,” where the rover spent many months parked on a north-facing slope in order to keep its solar panels pointed toward the sun for the winter. During this time, it captured several images to create this high resolution panorama. During that time, while the rover spent the daylight hours conducting as much scientific research as possible, science team members assigned informal names to rock outcrops, boulders, and patches of soil commemorating exploration sites in Antarctica and the southernmost islands of South America. Antarctic bases are places where researchers, like the rovers on Mars, hunker down for the winter in subzero temperatures. During the past Martian winter, Spirit endured temperatures lower than minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

No one foresaw that Martian winds would occasionally clean the solar panels to give them a new lease on life or that the components would miraculously continue functioning.

Spirit endured the utterly extreme Red Planet climate for more than six years until communications ceased in 2010.

Opportunity is still roving Mars today, and doing so in rather good condition!

Altogether, Spirit drove 4.8 miles (7.73 kilometers),that’s about 12 times more than the original goal set for the mission.

She transmitted over 128,000 images.

After landing in the dusty plains, she headed for the nearby Columbia Hills some 2 miles away and ultimately became the first Martian mountaineer, when she scaled Husband Hill and found evidence for the flow of liquid water at the Hillary outcrop.

Spirit acquired this mosaic on Sol 1202  (May 21, 2007), while investigating the area east of the elevated plateau known as "Home Plate" in the "Columbia Hills." The mosaic shows an area of disturbed soil, nicknamed "Gertrude Weise" by scientists, made by Spirit's stuck right front wheel. The trench exposed a patch of nearly pure silica, with the composition of opal. It could have come from either a hot-spring environment or an environment called a fumarole, in which acidic, volcanic steam rises through cracks. Either way, its formation involved water, and on Earth, both of these types of settings teem with microbial life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Spirit acquired this mosaic on Sol 1202 (May 21, 2007), while investigating the area east of the elevated plateau known as “Home Plate” in the “Columbia Hills.” The mosaic shows an area of disturbed soil, nicknamed “Gertrude Weise” by scientists, made by Spirit’s stuck right front wheel. The trench exposed a patch of nearly pure silica, with the composition of opal. It could have come from either a hot-spring environment or an environment called a fumarole, in which acidic, volcanic steam rises through cracks. Either way, its formation involved water, and on Earth, both of these types of settings teem with microbial life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

The rovers were not designed to climb hills. But eventually she scaled 30 degree inclines.

The rover was equipped with a rock grinder named the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) built by Honeybee Robotics.

Spirit ground the surfaces off 15 rock targets and scoured 92 targets with a brush to prepare the targets for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager, according to NASA.

Eventually she drove back down the hill and made even greater scientific discoveries in the area known as ‘Home Plate’.

Spirit survived three harsh Martian winters and only succumbed to the Antarctic-like temperatures when she unexpectedly became mired in an unseen sand trap driving beside an ancient volcanic feature named ‘Home Plate’ that prevented the solar arrays from generating life giving power to safeguard critical electronic and computer components.

In 2007, Spirit made one of the key discoveries of the mission at ‘Home Plate’ when her stuck right front wheel churned up a trench of bright Martian soil that exposed a patch of nearly pure silica, which was formed in a watery hot spring or volcanic environment.

Spirit was heading towards another pair of volcanic objects named ‘von Braun’ and ‘Goddard’ and came within just a few hundred feet when she died in the sand trap.

See Spirits last panorama below – created from raw images taken in Feb. 2010 by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Last View from Spirit rover on Mars.  Spirit’s last panorama from Gusev Crater was taken during February 2010 before her death from extremely low temperatures during her 4th Martian winter.  Spirit was just 500 feet from her next science target - dubbed Von Braun – at center, with Columbia Hills as backdrop.  Mosaic Credit: Marco Di Lorenzo/ Kenneth Kremer/ NASA/JPL/Cornell University.  Mosaic featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on 30 May 2011 - http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110530.html
Last View from Spirit rover on Mars
Spirit’s last panorama from Gusev Crater was taken during February 2010 before her death from extremely low temperatures during her 4th Martian winter. Spirit was just 500 feet from her next science target – dubbed Von Braun – at center, with Columbia Hills as backdrop. Mosaic Credit: Marco Di Lorenzo/ Kenneth Kremer/ NASA/JPL/Cornell University. Mosaic featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on 30 May 2011 – http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110530.html

Here’s how the rovers’ principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., described some of the key findings in a NASA statement, starting with what Spirit found after driving from the crater floor where it landed into the Columbia hills to the east:

“In the Columbia Hills, we discovered compelling evidence of an ancient Mars that was a hot, wet, violent place, with volcanic explosions, hydrothermal activity, steam vents — nothing like Mars today.

“At Opportunity’s landing site, we found evidence of an early Mars that had acidic groundwater that sometimes reached the surface and evaporated away, leaving salts behind. It was an environment with liquid water, but very different from the environment that Spirit told us about.

“When Opportunity got to the rim of Endeavour Crater, we began a whole new mission. We found gypsum veins and a rich concentration of clay minerals. The clay minerals tell us about water chemistry that was neutral, instead of acidic — more favorable for microbial life, if any ever began on Mars.”

“Because of the rovers’ longevity, we essentially got four different landing sites for the price of two.”

MER10-SpiritAndOpportunity_ByTheNumbers[1]

Meanwhile, NASA’s new Curiosity rover just celebrated 500 Sols on Mars and is speeding towards Mount Sharp from inside Gale Crater – which is about the same size as Gusev crater.

And a pair of newly launched orbiters are streaking to the Red Planet; NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM.

And China’s new Yutu lunar rover and Chang’e-3 lander are napping through the lunar night until mid-January.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rover and MOM news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Curiosity, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 8 launch, and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 8” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Rover Teams Keeping Spirits Up on Fate of Frozen Mars Rover

[/caption]

The hibernating Spirit rover hasn’t communicated with Earth since March 22 of this year, and while everyone hopes for the best, NASA, it seems, wants to brace rover fans for the worst, just in case. The space agency has dutifully issued a couple of press releases the past few months saying it is possible we may not hear from the rover again. Even Cornell University – home of MER PI Steve Squyres — featured an article in their Daily Sun newspaper this week with the headline, “Mars Rover May Have Lost Power for Good.” But yet, Squyres is quoted “Spirit hasn’t died; we haven’t heard from it, but we suspect it is still alive and we are waiting to hear from it.”

So what are Spirit’s chances? And what are the real sentiments of everyone on the rover team –has anyone actually forsaken hope of hearing from the plucky rover that surprised us time and time again? Universe Today checked in with Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell for an update:

“I don’t have the sense that anyone around here has given up on Spirit,” Maxwell said in an email. “The general consensus, I think, is that she’ll wait until a day or so past the last time anyone expects to hear from her, and then pop up with 800 Watt-hours per sol.”

That’s the Spirit rover, for you. Always full of surprises.

And a robotic version of Lazarus rising from the dead wouldn’t be all that astounding. In the past, she has amazed us all by doing things like being able to climb to the top of Husband Hill and shuffle back down again, then continuing to keep on truckin’ even when a wheel gave out – years ago, and lately, she still provided scientific discoveries even while asleep.

The Spirit rover, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA, image enhanced by Stu Atkinson.

Even though it seems like ages since we’ve heard from the rover, remember that the Martian winter in Spirit’s location runs through November here on Earth, so it hasn’t even started to really warm up yet.

“There was a long, low-probability period starting about late July or early August when we didn’t expect to hear from her, but we theoretically could have,” Maxwell said. “That probably contributes to the idea that we “should” have heard from her by now — but really, there was just a low, flat, leading edge of the probability curve.”

Back in July, rover engineers began a “sweep and beep” campaign, where instead of just listening, they send commands to the rover to respond back with a communications beep. If the rover is awake and hears the call, she will send back a beep.

But we haven’t heard a beep yet.

The rover is likely in a low-power hibernation mode since it wasn’t able to get to a favorable slope to capture sunlight on its solar panels during its fourth Martian winter. The low angle of sunlight during these months limits the power able to be generated. During hibernation, the rover shuts down communications and other activities so available energy can be used to recharge and heat the batteries, and to keep the mission clock running.

Maxwell said their models say the solar power at Gusev Crater should just now be getting good enough that Spirit could have multiple wakeups per sol. “Theoretically we have a shot at getting our “beep” sequence in on any of those wakeups,” he said. “It’s still the case that any individual wakeup presents us only with a low-probability chance of hearing from her, we just potentially get more of those chances per unit of time.”

It is kind a crapshoot, however, Maxwell said, and it might still be weeks or even months before they get the winning pull of the slot machine handle.

Maxwell is optimistic, and although he didn’t give any percentages on how likely it is that Spirit will wake up, he said the situation is certainly not dire…yet.

“Having said all that, it would be awfully nice to actually get a beep from Spirit and know she’s there,” Maxwell said. “I miss her. I hope she calls home soon.”

Sniff.

Hang in there, Spirit. And you, too, Scott, and all your rover compatriots.