Crippled Mars Rover is Chilled, But Still Alive

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit took this photo of Mars during Spirit’s Mars mission
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). (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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

Spirit has been parkedin her winter position since early February, when scientists decided tostop 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 reacheda record low temperature of minus 41.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 41 degreesCelsius).

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

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

That last downlink indicated that Spirit's systems werestill running, though energy production was down, according to the latest NASAreport.

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

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

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

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

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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.