NASA Extends Mars Rovers’ Journey

NASA announced Tuesday that the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have had their missions extended for an additional six months, or as long as the Martian rovers remain operational.

Spirit and Opportunity have survived the most dangerous conditions they have faced — the Mars southern-hemisphere winter, which meant little sun for photovoltaic cells and the low temperatures that threatened to freeze gears and crack fragile components and connections.

Good News from Outer Space

“Spirit and Opportunity appear ready to continue their remarkable adventures,” said Andrew Dantzler, solar system division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re taking advantage of that good news by adding more support for the teamwork here on Earth that’s necessary for operating the rovers.”

Both rovers successfully completed their initial three-month missions on the surface of Mars back in April and have already added about five months of bonus exploration during the first extension of their missions.

Twelve Day Hiatus

According to NASA, neither rover drove during a 12-day period this month, while radio transmissions were unreliable because of the Sun’s position between the two planets. Daily planning and commanding of rover activities began again Monday for Opportunity and Tuesday for Spirit.

Team members at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said they were relieved to have made it past the last couple of weeks. “Not only were communications disrupted, but the rovers were also going through the worst part of Mars southern-hemisphere winter from a solar-energy standpoint,” said Jim Erickson, who is the project manager for both rovers.

Rovers Keep on Truckin’

“Although Spirit and Opportunity are well past warranty, they are showing few signs of wearing out,” Erickson said. “We really don’t know how long they will keep working, whether days or months. We will do our best to continue getting the maximum possible benefit from these great national resources.”

The expectation now is that Spirit and Opportunity will both slowly recoup some of the power they have been losing as the Sun sank to its midwinter low point in the Martian sky.

Originally planned as a 90-day mission, Spirit has already performed well beyond expectations, last for 263 days and Opportunity is just three weeks behind its sister vehicle in operational time.

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