The Sun Sets on Spirit
After seven years on Mars it is now time to say good night to the rover named Spirit.
Since becoming irreparably stuck in the soft Martian soil near a low rise dubbed “Home Plate” nearly two years ago, Spirit has weathered a frigid Martian winter that may have damaged its electronics. Attempts to communicate with the rover have been unsuccessful since last March, and although engineers and scientists have remained hopeful that Spirit would eventually respond to various attempts at awakening it, it’s officially been determined that Spirit has, in fact, permanently fallen silent.
From a NASA press release:
A transmission that will end on Wednesday, May 25, will be the last in a series of attempts. Extensive communications activities during the past 10 months also have explored the possibility that Spirit might reawaken as the solar energy available to it increased after a stressful Martian winter without much sunlight. With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold.
After landing on Mars in January of 2004, Spirit successfully completed its three-month mission objectives and then went on to explore further, dutifully sending data back to Earth for another six years. The contributions made by Spirit to Martian planetary science have been, in a word, invaluable. Not to mention the beautiful and intriguing images it has returned over its years of exploration… just one example being the above images of a sunset on Mars.
NASA intends to focus its resources on the preparation of the next Mars Exploration Rover, the Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. “Curiosity”) which is slated to launch in November. And although there won’t be more dedicated attempts to elicit a response from Spirit, NASA will still keep an ear out for any signals from the rover.
“While we no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit, the Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits.”
– Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration
Hopefully the schedule “permits” more often than not.
And so here’s to Spirit, the plucky little rover that overcame many obstacles and withstood many difficult times during its many years of service on Mars. It’s done quite a job, and now its time for it to take a much-deserved rest. If it decides to pipe up, well… we’ll be listening.
Here’s just a few of my favorite images taken by Spirit:
That’ll do, Spirit.
You’ve done well. And…mission accomplished.
“Spirit explored just as we would have, seeing a distant hill, climbing it, and showing us the vista from the summit. And she did it in a way that allowed everyone on Earth to be part of the adventure.”
– Steve Squyres, principal investigator
Image credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech