Farewell Spirit

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's final resting place is a sandy and desolate region of Mars. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA has concluded attempts to contact the first of the two Mars Exploration Rovers to land on Mars – Spirit. Spirit has not responded back to controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) since March 22, 2010. NASA tried one last time today to contact the ailing rover to no avail.  This concludes a mission that was set to last 90 days but wound up lastly seven years. Spirit touched down on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004.

It had been hoped that at the end of the long Martian winter Spirit might reawaken. The rover has been stuck in, for all intents and purposes, what amounts to a sand trap since 2009 and had been converted somewhat to a stationary Mars research station. 

Three weeks after Spirit landed on the red planet her sister, Opportunity touched down on the other side of Mars in what was eventually dubbed “Eagle Crater.” Opportunity has since found a wealth of evidence that has led scientists to conclude that Mars had in fact once been a wet world that could have harbored life. 

Recently engineers have determined that there is virtually no chance of reconnecting with Spirit. Moreover, assets that were used to “talk” with Spirit, including NASA’s Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth and two NASA Mars orbiters are needed to communicate with the next planned mission to Mars – NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission better known as Curiosity. Curiosity is currently scheduled to launch this fall. 

NASA still is in contact with Opportunity who continues to make discoveries on Mars to this day. When the Curiosity rover lands on Mars it will have many of the lessons learned from the MER rovers incorporated into its design. Just as Spirit and Opportunity were much larger than the Sojourner rover that landed on Mars back in the 90s, Curiosity too will be larger than her predecessors. Opportunity is the size of a golf cart; Curiosity is approximately the size of a compact car.

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