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NASA attempts to free stuck Mars rover Spirit

The artistic image simulates Spirit's position on May 8, 2009, during the 1,900th Martian day. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

LOS ANGELES (AP/PTI): NASA has outlined a rescue plan to try to free the Mars rover Spirit, which has been bogged in a sand trap on the red planet for half a year. The risky operation is expected to last several months.

"If it cannot make the great escape from this sand trap, it's likely that this lonely spot straddling the edge of this crater might be where Spirit ends its adventures on Mars," said Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters.

The plucky rover was driving backward in April when its wheels broke through the crusty surface and became mired in a patch of talcum-like dirt. It tried to crab its way out, but its wheels sunk deeper.

After rehearsing various escape tries on Earth using prototype rovers, NASA said it was finally ready to provide some roadside assistance on Mars.

The first driving commands will be sent to Spirit on Monday, but engineers cautioned the wheels likely will have high slippage.The plans calls for Spirit to drive forward and retrace its steps.

"If we follow our old tracks out, we may be able to make better progress," said rover driver Ashley Stroupe of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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