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NASA trying to regain communications with Spirit rover on Mars

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Artist's concept of the Spirit rover on Mars. Photo: NASA.

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA (BNS): Nine months after last hearing from the Mars rover Spirit, NASA is stepping up efforts to regain communications with the rover before spring ends on southern Mars in mid-March.

"The amount of solar energy available for Spirit is still increasing every day for the next few months. As long as that's the case, we will do all we can to increase the chances of hearing from the rover again," Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA's JPL), was quoted as saying in a news report by NASA's JPL.

But after mid-March, prospects for reviving Spirit would begin to drop, according to JPL.

Communication strategies would change based on reasoning that Spirit's silence is due to factors beyond just a low-power condition, JPL said, adding that mission-ending damage from the cold experienced by Spirit in the past Martian winter is a real possibility.

Spirit landed on Mars Jan. 4, 2004 (Universal Time; Jan. 3, Pacific Time) for a mission designed to last for three months. After accomplishing its prime-mission goals, Spirit worked for more than five years in bonus-time extended missions.

The rover's motors worked far beyond their design life, but eventually, Spirit lost use of drive motors on two of its six wheels. This left it unable to obtain a favorable tilt for solar energy during the rover's fourth Martian winter, which began last May.

Opportunity, which landed three weeks after Spirit is still active. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favourable for supporting microbial life.

Spirit last communicated on March 22, 2010. The rover team had anticipated that the rover would enter a low-power fault mode with minimal activity except charging and heating the batteries and keeping its clock running. With most heaters shut off, Spirit's internal temperatures dipped lower than ever before on Mars.

That stress could have caused damage, such as impaired electrical connections, that would prevent reawakening or, even if Spirit returns to operation, would reduce its capabilities, the report further added.

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NASA  Mars  Spirit  
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