For Stuck Mars Rover, Time is Running Out

A photo of NASA’s Spirit mechanical arm and the rovers surroundings during its mission.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit recorded this forward view of its arm and surroundings during the rover's 2,052nd Martian day, or sol (Oct. 11, 2009). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Timeis running out for NASA?s stuck Mars rover Spirit as engineers prepare to maketheir final attempts to rescue the hard-luck robot from its Martian sand trap.

Spiritspun its wheels extremely slowly Tuesday in yet another attempt to extricateitself from the wheel-deep sand it has been stuck in since May 2009. Engineersare studying the results of that drive to decide which of the few remainingoptions to try next.

Sofar, nothing NASA has tried has worked to freeSpirit.

"Earlierdrives in the past two weeks using wheel wiggles and slow wheel rotationproduced only negligible progress toward extricating Spirit," NASAofficials said in an update.

Spiritand its robotic twin have been exploring different parts of Mars since January2004 and far outlasted their initial 90-day life expectancy. Opportunity isworking fine on the plains of Meridiani Planum and headed for a giant cratercalled Endeavour, but Spirit has seen better days.

Therover's wheels slipped into deep Martiansand on May 6, 2009 and have been stuck in place ever since.Spirit?s robotic arm is too weak to push the rover up and out, and attempts todrive out have repeatedly failed, rover engineers have said.

Spirit?sbum right-front wheel hasn?t worked properly since mid-December (when engineersswitched it back on for the first time since 2006) and the rover?s right-rearwheel has been broken since November. That leaves the six-wheeled rover withonly four workingwheels, and only one operating wheel on the right side.

Engineersat NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are now looking attheir short list of options for rescuing Spirit.

Thoseoptions include driving Spirit backwards and using the robotic arm to sculptthe Martian sand directly in front of the rover?s left front wheel ? the onlyworking wheel within reach. It could take several days to try either option,and time is short since winter is approaching on Mars.

Theamount of power produced by Spirit?s solar panels has been dropping each day asthe Martian days, or sols, grow shorter in southern Mars.

"IfNASA does determine that the rover will not be able to get away from itscurrent location, some maneuvers to improve the tilt toward the winter sun mightbe attempted," mission managers said.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.