Spirit rover's in a bit of a hole

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NASA says it has a plan to free the trapped Mars rover Spirit from the hole it's been stuck in for the last six (Earth) months. But scientists warn that if the attempt early next week fails, it will finally be curtains for the plucky robot explorer. The main problem is a rock beneath the rover on which it will be stuck permanently should its wheels dig in during the escape bid.

altGround controllers will send a new set of commands on Monday in a final attempt to drive Spirit out of the sand trap. The rover team said it was optimistic that Spirit would be able to resume its exploration of the Martian surface.

Designed to operate for only 90 days when they arrived on Mars back in 2004, Spirit and its sister, Opportunity, have exceeded all expectations by exploring the red planet for over five years.

"If Spirit cannot make the great escape from this sand trap, this might be where Spirit ends its adventure on Mars," said a NASA spokesman.

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