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Wed, Dec 12, 2007

Is NASA's Spirit Rover Facing Its Last Sunset?

Racing The Clock To Reposition Rover For Martian Winter

It's a race against the clock... at 10 mm/second. NASA engineers are becoming concerned the Mars Spirit Rover may miss a deadline to reposition itself in time for the Martian winter. If the craft cannot be parked with its solar panels aimed at the sun by Christmas, it risks starving its batteries beyond the point of recovery.

"It's scramble right now because we're losing sunlight," rover project manager John Callas told The Associated Press.

Both rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, fell victim to Martian dust storms this summer which coated their solar arrays... reducing their energy-generating capabilities to less than 50 percent.

Winds have since helped clear the dust from Opportunity, but Spirit hasn't done as well. Program officials say Spirit's solar panel efficiency could drop to 30 percent this winter.

If the craft can't maneuver to a sunny spot and angle its panels to the optimum sun angle for recharging during an expected seven months of dormancy, it may be lost. Right now, Spirit's battery is being recharged so slowly that it must rest one day after each move, and time is running out.

The twin Mars rovers have outlived their intended 90-day mission plans many times over, and continue to make discoveries of great value to scientists. As ANN reported, NASA extended both rovers' missions a fifth time in October.

FMI: www.nasa.gov/rovers

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