Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NASA Recreates Mars Surface to Liberate Rover

PASADENA – Getting stuck is never fun, especially when you’re over 30 million miles from Earth. NASA’s Spirit rover is mired in dirt on Mars and now scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are working hard to free the over-worked robot.
Spirit first ran afoul of the Martian surface on May 6 when it hit some patches of dirt that made its wheels spin in place. Now the wheels (two of which are not working properly) are sunk in up to their hubcaps.
Like a remote Auto Club for robots, JPL engineers have built a sandbox filled with a mixture of materials that closely mimic the consistency of Martian soil as well as a rock to high-center the rover. They’ve driven a replica of the Spirit into the box and are working diligently to figure out the best way to escape the talcum-like trap – a technique used with Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, back in 2005 when it also became stuck.
The first Mars Exploration Rover landed on the red planet in January 2004. Initially, the mission was supposed to last 90 Martian days, but Spirit exceeded that by over 20 times. Thanks to a recent dust storm, the fine dust that coated Spirit’s solar panels was blown off and it has been operating at full power for months now. If this latest obstacle can be overcome, Spirit can keep exploring even longer.
Read on to see how the JPL scientists created a little piece of Mars on Earth and get up close and personal with Spirit’s predicament.
Above: A JPL technician attaches a grounding strap to the rover before measuring the distance it traveled during the previous move. Below:
A Discovery Channel Canada film crew films the engineers as they work to get the rover unstuck.

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