Mars Rover to Roam No More

So mission managers announced Tuesday that the rover will stay put, spending the rest of its days conducting science from its current location inside the crater, where its wheels can move only a few inches.

That crater proved to be "a golfer's worst nightmare," Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program, told reporters Tuesday at a press briefing in Washington, D.C.

"It's a sand trap that, no matter how many strokes you take, you just can't get out."
Now, instead of planning an escape, rover drivers will use the craft's limited mobility to reposition the probe, giving Spirit a better chance of surviving the oncoming Martian winter.

"In the past we've been able to drive the rover to tilt its solar arrays toward the north and maximize sunlight," said rover project manager John Callas, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Right now Spirit has "an unfavorable tilt," about nine degrees toward the south, he said.

"If we can't improve the tilt, we'll drop below the power levels we need to maintain daily activities."

In that case, the rover would trigger itself to go into hibernation, and NASA mission managers likely wouldn't hear a peep out of the craft for about six months.

In the meantime, mission managers will continue to communicate with Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, which is currently motoring toward Endeavour Crater.

Opportunity "is now on approach to an extremely young crater called Concepcion [which] may be the youngest crater a rover has yet encountered," McCuistion said.


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