After more than six years exploring Mars the rover Spirit mission has ended. Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004. The mission was to last 90 days. The little rover that could continued to surprise engineers as it faced one challenge after another including memory concerns and power issues.
“The environment for Spirit was always harsher than for Opportunity. The winters are deeper and darker. And Gusev is much dustier than Meridiani. Spirit had an everincreasing accumulation of dust on her arrays. Each winter became harder than the last,” John Callas, project manager of Mars Exploration Rover project, wrote in a letter to his team. The letter was published on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.
“There is an emotional attachment to both these rovers,” Callas said in an interview with the Crescenta Valley Weekly. “We always knew [this day] would come.” Spirit’s first real mechanical challenge was after “her” second Earth year on Mars. She descended down an area called Columbia Hills and her right-front wheel failed. From that point on the rover traveled with five wheels instead of six. However JPL missions seem to find the good in every bad situation. As Spirit dragged her foot the rover uncovered layers of new discovery.
The rover had bouts of amnesia and didn’t record data to its flash memory. Spirit got stuck in sandy ground. Callas and his team constructed a makeshift Mars surface at JPL where they would conduct ways of freeing the rover. Again with the JPL lemon into lemonade theory, Spirit found itself stuck in one of the most scientifically rich areas.
The attempts to free the rover were unsuccessful and then Spirit grew silent.
“We have not heard from Spirit. We are starting a new strategy of sleep and beep to send commands to the rover to see if Spirit will respond back with a beep command,” Callas said in an interview last year.
The hope at the time was the rover’s mission clock had failed due to low power, so even if it woke it would not know that it was time to talk to JPL.
The last time engineers heard from Spirit was March 22, 2009.
“We have sent over 1300 commands to the rover and haven’t heard anything back,” Callas said. “We have done everything at this point.”
The mission ended on May 25, which although planned is sad for Callas and his team. Although it has ended Spirit’s success will not soon be forgotten.
The rover had successful geological
“Mars is no longer a mysterious distant planet,” Callas said.
Spirit’s twin rover Opportunity continued to explore in a more hospitable area of Mars. The rover is traveling toward Endeavour crater.
Spirit’s mission ended just as the Mars Science Laboratory is being prepared for launch. Spirit and the rovers before it paved the way for new exploration.
“I would say this is the most exciting time in human history [of exploration]. Not just mars but Europa, Titan and the moons of Saturn and the huge inventory of exo-planets [a planet that is outside our solar system],” Callas said.
Callas added this is an exciting time for those who are interested in a career in engineering and space science especially with the ability to find and study planets that could sustain life outside our system.