Spirit rover stuck in Martian sand

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Mars rover Spirit is stuck in soft sand on Mars, and controllers are scratching their heads trying to work out how to extricate it.

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - The Mars rover Spirit is stuck in soft sand on Mars, and controllers are scratching their heads trying to work out how to extricate it.

In a phenomenon familiar to any driver who has got stuck in the mud, controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory say that efforts to free the vehicle have only resulted in it sinking even more deeply. They are now concerned that any forther efforts to drive it out will simply ground it on the rocks beneath.

Part of the problem is that only five of Spirit's six wheels are working after a mechanical failure three years ago.

Wheel slippage during attempts to extricate NASA's Mars Rover Spirit from a patch of soft ground during the preceding two weeks had partially buried the wheels by the 1,899th Martian day, or sol, of the Spirit's mission on Mars (May 6, 2009).

Spirit was driving around a low plateau towards a pair of volcanic features named Von Braun and Goddard when it slipped and became stuck. In a statement, JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, described the situation as "very difficult".

The controllers are holding back from any more efforts to drive the rover out of the sand. Instead, they are trying to simulate the problem in a 'sandbox' on earth.

Spirit has had a good innings. After landing on Mars in 2004 for a three month mission, it kept going strong for five years. It has suffered from other problems recently, including a series of memory lapses. It has had one bit of luck recently, though, when heavy winds blew away dust that had accumulated on its solar panels, allaying fears that it could lose power.

Even if Spirit remains stuck in the sand, says NASA, it will still be able to make useful observations.

See more about: