Stuck Mars Rover Finally Budges, a Little

Stuck Mars Rover Finally Budges, a Little
This image shows the progress of Spirit after its second drive attempt. (Click on the image for a "before" and "after" animation.) In the "after" image, Spirit's left-front wheel has become slightly less buried in the soft soil in which the rover had become embedded about six months ago. The right-front wheel, which has not been usable for driving since 2006, has been pushed perceptibly forward by the drive. The amount of forward motion is less than one percent of the distance that would have been covered on firm ground by the amount of wheel rotation commanded in the drive. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA?s stuck Mars rover Spirit took a tiny step Thursday,its first progress in months, during the latest attempt to extricate the robotfrom deep Martian sand.

On Thursday, Spirit inched forward slightly after its secondattempt to drive out of the patch of sandy soil called Troy, in which it hasbeen mired since April.

The rover successfully completed the first of two commandsto spin its wheels for a period equivalent to driving 8.2 feet (2.5 meters). Theattempt moved Spirit?s center forward by about half an inch (1.2 cm), left byabout 0.3 inches (7 mm), and about ?0.2 inches (4 mm) down.

Some small forward motion was observed with the non-operableright front wheel, and the left front wheel showed signs of climbing, despitethe center of the rover moving downward. These motions are too small to establishany trends at this time, the NASA report said.

The plans for the drive limited Spirit's movement to 0.4inches (1 cm) in any direction, so the rover didn't attempt the second wheelspin because it calculated that it had exceeded that limit.

The first attempt to free Spirit, which took place onTuesday, hita snag when the rover sensed it was tilting too much and stopped after lessthan one second of wheel spin.

The rover team is continuing to analyze the data and imagesfrom the second drive, NASA said.

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Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.