Crippled Mars Rover is Chilled, But Still Alive
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit recorded this fisheye view with its rear hazard-avoidance camera after completing a drive during the 2,169th Martian day, or sol, of Spirit's mission on Mars (Feb. 8, 2010).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's crippled Spirit Mars rover is still awake as it prepares for the oncoming Martian winter, which has already left it colder than ever before.

Spirit has been parked in her winter position since early February, when scientists decided to stop maneuvering the rover and prepare for the coming cold months.

Now the rover has hit colder temperatures than ever before. A piece of equipment that serves as a proxy for Spirit's electronic system has reached a record low temperature of minus 41.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 41 degrees Celsius).

The rover is still embedded in a sand trap called "Troy" in which it became mired almost a year ago. Repeated attempts to drive Spirit out of the sandy soil proved futile and NASA decided to shift the plucky robot to a stationary mission.

Spirit no performs a basic plan each week that includes a brief wake up, a data downlink to its handlers back on Earth, and then a shutdown for the rest of the Martian day and night. The last downlink from the Spirit was on Monday.

That last downlink indicated that Spirit's systems were still running, though energy production was down, according to the latest NASA report.

Energy levels for the rover are expected to continue to decrease as winter sets in, because temperatures will drop, requiring heating elements to work harder, and the sun will be lower in the sky, meaning less solar power available for the rover's solar arrays.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Mars, Spirit's sister rover Opportunity is making fast progress towards its next destination, Endeavour Crater, NASA officials reported. The plan for Opportunity for the foreseeable future is to keep driving, mission managers said.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on different regions of Mars in January 2004 and have far outlasted their initial 90-day mission several times over.

Spirit?s Troy locale is situated inside Mars? expansive Gusev Crater, while Opportunity is roving across the plains of Meridiani Planum on the other side of the red planet.