11 November 2008
Just when things were looking up for Spirit and we had begun driving, over the weekend we got news from the MARCI team that there was a dust storm headed toward Gusev crater. Sure enough, Spirit is being hit hard and power levels are at an all-time low. Here’s the NASA press release.
But after five years the rover team knows what it’s doing. There was an emergency set of commands sent up to Spirit to cancel everything and minimize its power use. This included turning off the heater on the Mini-TES instrument. In case all of that doesn’t work, the rover will slip into a “low power fault”, meaning it will shut down everything but its clock, and wait for a predetermined amount of time before periodically waking up and calling home. Its scheduled calls home would happen at known times, and the team will be listening for those calls just in case.
As troubling as it is that Spirit is being hit by this storm, I still can’t help but find it amazing that we are at the point where we can watch storms like this form and have time to change our plans accordingly. We just forecasted weather on Mars!