25 May 2011

R.I.P. Spirit Rover

Posted by Ryan Anderson

We all knew this day would come. Yesterday NASA announced that it would be stopping efforts to contact the Spirit rover after a final set of commands early this morning. It’s a shame, but we have to remember that Spirit lasted more than 20 times its original 90 day mission and survived some incredible difficulties. After an early software glitch nearly killed the mission, Spirit managed to drive up into the Columbia Hills and down the other side, discovering a host of weathered rocks, including carbonates. When Spirit’s front wheel froze up, she drove backward to Home Plate, dragging the wheel and in the process digging a trench that unveiled sulfate and silica-rich soils that formed in a hydrothermal environment. Spirit finally met her match when she got stuck in a sand trap west of Home Plate and lost the use of a second wheel, but even this last bit of misfortune had a silver lining: the treacherous sand was more of the sulfate-bearing hydrothermally-altered soil, and a huge gust of wind whisked Spirit’s solar panels clean, providing a boost of power and therefore plenty of high-quality measurements of Spirit’s final resting place. Spirit finally went dark as winter descended over Gusev Crater and she was unable to drive to a slope and point her solar panels toward the low winter sun.

I’m reminded of this quote:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride'” – Unknown


Spirit’s twin Opportunity continues her lonely trek across the Meridiani plains to the rim of the ancient Endeavor crater and, although a little arthritic, is still in remarkably good health. In honor of Spirit and Opportunity, our Good Old Girls, I wanted to share this video that made the rounds a while back.


(Music by Marian Call, video by Steve Hammond)