Stuck Mars Rover Climbs Slightly in Escape Attempt

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NASA’s Spirit rover, stuck in a martian sand trap for more than eight months, lifted itself by just over 1 centimeter during its latest two drive attempts, the U.S. space agency announced Jan. 21. It was the rover’s first upward motion since escape attempts began in November, the agency said.

The rover also moved about 6.5 centimeters backward in the maneuvers, which took place Jan. 14 and Jan. 16. Spirit’s left wheel stalled Jan. 19 during yet another drive attempt.

“The explanation here is that the rover’s rear wheels are climbing, raising the back of the rover,” NASA officials said in a statement. “Images from the rear hazard avoidance camera confirm this.”

NASA engineers are running out of options for trying to rescue Spirit from the wheel-deep sand it sank into in May 2009. The rover is 3.5 centimeters south of its location when it began its escape maneuvers in November, mission managers said.

Spirit remains stuck in 3 centimeters of sand, and its top-mounted solar arrays are not in a favorable position to keep the rover alive through a Mars winter. It is autumn in the southern hemisphere of Mars, where Spirit is stuck.

Spirit and its robotic twin Opportunity have been exploring Mars since January 2004, when the rovers landed on different parts of the red planet. In contrast to Spirit, Opportunity is roving just fine as it heads to a distant, giant crater dubbed Endeavour.

Despite Spirit’s current predicament, the rover and its twin have far outlasted their initial 90-day missions to explore the red planet.