NASA Audio File

NASA’s Spirt Rover has Uncertain Future as Sixth Anniversary Nears
NASA's twin Mars rover Spirit will mark 6 years of unprecedented science exploration on Sunday, January 3 2010. However, the upcoming Martian winter could be the last trip for one of the beloved robots.

Nine months ago, Spirit's wheels broke through a crusty surface layer and became trapped in the loose sand hidden underneath. Efforts to free the rover have barely budged it, and not having all six wheels moving has worsened the predicament. Spirit's right-front wheel quit working in 2006, and its right-rear wheel stalled a month ago. Latest attempts have resulted in the rover sinking deeper in the soil.

Spirit is in the southern hemisphere of Mars. As daily sunshine on the Red Planet declines due to the approaching winter, ground operators are trying to adjust the tilt of Spirit's solar panels to compensate for the decreasing solar energy. Unless the tilt is improved, Spirit’s power will continually decline until May 2010, and the rover could become totally inoperable.

Spirit, and its twin Opportunity, began missions intended to last for three months. Spirit landed on January 3, 2004, Opportunity on January 24.

HQ Contact: Dwayne Brown, 202-358-1726
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TRT: 2:06

Dr. Michael A. Meyer
Lead Scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program

CUT 1 (:15) – Meyer: "The Mars Exploration rovers have gone from their 90-day guarantee to almost six years on the surface. And they have been our eyes and our ability our ability to taste a different world."
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CUT 2 (:17) – Meyer: "One of the real pleasures of being involved in their exploration is in fact you would in fact kind of see the same rocks, see the rock, different soil, huge changes then all of a sudden there would a surprise."
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CUT 3 (:27) – Meyer: "In some ways, the idea that it would be stuck in one place is sad and that it can’t rove any more. But on the other hand, it’s still alive. There are some science that it can do that it could do as a rover. And so that in fact is something we look forward to and is exciting."
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CUT 4 (:52) – Meyer: "Right now the solar panels are pointed slightly south. It's in a, approaching winter and for the best sunlight it should be pointed in the other direction toward the north where the sun will above the horizon. So there is the bad news in that it will have a difficult time surviving the winter unless we can figure out to tilt it a little bit. Ah the good news is that with it being stationary it will be able to do science that wasn’t able to do before. And that by being stationary and making extremely fine measurements using its radio, it can monitors minor variations in the spin of Mars. And by doing that for an extended period of time you’ll be able to sort out if Mars has a liquid center or a solid center."
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CUT 5 (:11) – Meyer: "Something that lasts almost six years when it was only supposed to last 90 days, you got to’ be joyful that thing has been so tremendously successful."
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