NASA will end efforts to link up with Mars rover
LOS ANGELES — Spirit, the scrappy robot geologist that captivated the world with its antics on Mars before getting stuck in a sand trap, is about to meet its end after six productive years.
Spirit has been incommunicado for more than a year, despite daily calls by NASA. The cause of Spirit’s silence may never be known, but it’s likely that the bitter Martian winter damaged its electronics, preventing the six-wheel rover from waking up.
The space agency for months tried every trick to listen for Spirit, to no avail. Project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the last commands will be sent up today. Though orbiting spacecraft will continue to listen through the end of May, chances are slim that Spirit will respond.
Callas said Spirit will be remembered for bringing Mars to the masses. “Mars is no longer this mysterious, distant place,’’ he said. “Mars is as familiar to us as any hometown, and it’s because of Spirit.’’
The solar-powered Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, parachuted to opposite ends of the Martian southern hemisphere in January 2004 for what was supposed to be a three-month mission.
The golf cart-size rovers were an instant hit with the public, who followed the rovers’ every move as they rolled across the Martian plains and stopped to drill into rocks.
Their greatest achievement was uncovering geologic evidence that Mars, now dry and dusty, was far more tropical billions of years ago.
The red planet was toastier and wetter, conditions that suggest the ancient environment could have been favorable for microbial life.
In 2005, Spirit scaled a mountain the height of the Statute of Liberty. It also was the first to record Martian dust devils as they formed, which NASA later made into movie clips.