NASA has given up on trying to get the Mars Rover Spirit out of the sand. The agency has decided that it will make the stranded rover go into hibernation mode and then become a stationary scientific platform on the surface of Mars.
The rover has been stuck in sand for the past several months now, but scientists were hoping to find a way to get Spirit free to continue is mission as a rover.
But with Martian winter approaching, Spirit’s handlers have decided to put the rover into a hibernation mode intended to protect its electronics from temperatures that could drop close to the design limit of negative 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The Rover will be like a polar bear hibernating and it could be for many months, on the order of 6 months that the Rover will be in this state,” said John Callas, the Rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a media teleconference. “This is not like the Phoenix mission. This rover is electrically active, but it has insufficient power to be awake each day.”
Spirit’s electronics were designed to withstand temperatures of negative 40 Fahrenheit while operating and negative 67 when hibernating. NASA scientists predict that the temperature will drop below negative 40, necessitating taking moves to protect the rover.
“The estimate is that the rover, even though it is getting cold, will stay within its design limits, but those were tested for a brand new rover fresh out of the box and this one has been on the surface for six years,” Callas said. “These will be temperatures that are colder than anything we’ve seen on the surface of Mars.”
Spirit’s sibling, the Opportunity rover, is located closer to the equator and will continue to operate through the winter months.
When the level of solar energy reaches high enough, Spirit will be contacted and wake back up to continue her life.