The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 31, 2010

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 2010 14:50:13
From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <>
To: "" <>
Subject: NASA's Hibernating Mars Rover May Not Call Home


Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

J.D. Harrington 202-358-5241
NASA Headquarters, Washington

News release:2010-252                                                                  
    July 30, 2010

NASA's Hibernating Mars Rover May Not Call Home

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA mission controllers have not heard from the Mars
Exploration Rover Spirit since March 22, and the rover is facing its
toughest challenge yet - trying to survive the harsh Martian winter.

The rover team anticipated Spirit would go into a low-power "hibernation"
mode since the rover was not able to get to a favorable slope for its fourth
Martian winter, which runs from May through November. The low angle of
sunlight during these months limits the power generated from the rover's
solar panels. During hibernation, the rover suspends communications and
other activities so available energy can be used to recharge and heat
batteries, and to keep the mission clock running.

On July 26, mission managers began using a paging technique called "sweep
and beep" in an effort to communicate with Spirit.

"Instead of just listening, we send commands to the rover to respond back to
us with a communications beep," said John Callas, project manager for Spirit
and its twin, Opportunity, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif. "If the rover is awake and hears us, she will send us that beep."

Based on models of Mars' weather and its effect on available power, mission
managers believe that if Spirit responds, it most likely will be in the next
few months. However, there is a very distinct possibility Spirit may never

"It will be the miracle from Mars if our beloved rover phones home," said
Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program in Washington.
"It's never faced this type of severe condition before - this is unknown

Because most of the rover's heaters were not being powered this winter,
Spirit is likely experiencing its coldest internal temperatures yet -- minus
55 degrees Celsius (minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit). During three previous
Martian winters, Spirit communicated about once or twice a week with Earth
and used its heaters to stay warm while parked on a sun-facing slope for the
winter. As a result, the heaters were able to keep internal temperatures
above minus 40 degrees Celsius (which is also minus 40 degrees on the
Fahrenheit scale).

Spirit is designed to wake up from its hibernation and communicate with
Earth when its battery charge is adequate. But if the batteries have lost
too much power, Spirit's clock may stop and lose track of time. The rover
could still reawaken, but it would not know the time of day, a situation
called a "mission-clock fault." Spirit would start a new timer to wake up
every four hours and listen for a signal from Earth for 20 minutes of every
hour while the sun is up.

The earliest date the rover could generate enough power to send a beep to
Earth was calculated to be around July 23. However, mission managers don't
anticipate the batteries will charge adequately until late September to
mid-October. It may be even later if the rover is in a mission-clock fault
mode. If Spirit does wake up, mission managers will do a complete health
check on the rover's instruments and electronics.

Based on previous Martian winters, the rover team anticipates the increasing
haziness in the sky over Spirit will offset longer daylight for the next two
months. The amount of solar energy available to Spirit then will increase
until the southern Mars summer solstice in March 2011. If we haven't heard
from it by March, it is unlikely that we will ever hear from it.

"This has been a long winter for Spirit, and a long wait for us," said Steve
Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA's two rovers who is based at
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "Even if we never heard from Spirit again,
I think her scientific legacy would be secure. But we're hopeful we will
hear from her, and we're eager to get back to doing science with two rovers

Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, began exploring Mars in January 2004 on
missions planned to last three months. Spirit has been nearly stationary
since April 2009, while Opportunity is driving toward a large crater named
Endeavour. Opportunity covered more distance in 2009 than in any prior year.
Both rovers have made important discoveries about wet environments on
ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.

NASA's JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the rovers, visit .

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Code {Code}

i'll try to keep this short


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