NASA's long-running Mars rover Spirit will begin critical drives for escaping a sand trap.
Title: Scott Maxwell, JPL Mars Rover Driver
Hi, I'm JPL Mars Rover Driver Scott Maxwell and this is a Free Spirit Update.
I'm sitting here at JPL in one of the operations rooms we use to drive the rover and the software you see running behind me is the
software we use to drive the two Mars rovers.
Now as you might know, back in late May Spirit was traversing North-west around a feature
called 'Home Plate,' when she broke through a hard kind of crusty surface layer of material.
Very much like an ice skater falling through a crust of ice over the surface of a pond and Spirit became trapped in the softer
looser material that had previously hidden underneath.
Our initial attempts to drive her out were unsuccessful and so we told Spirit to sit tight
for a little while on Mars while we figured out how to get her free back here on Earth.
This is an animation that we put together to help us understand how Spirit got into this predicament and what happened on our
first attempts to drive her out.
This is a very useful tool for us to help understand what's going on with one of the rovers
at a critical moment like this. Now even though Spirits been sitting in one place all this time, she hasn't been entirely idle.
She's been using her scientific instruments to help explore this material that she ended up getting trapped in. And this stuff
turns out to be very fascinating on a scientific basis; it gives us some of the best evidence that we found for past water
activity on Mars from either Rover. So for the science team that has been very much like your car breaking down in front of
Even so we would really like Spirit to get back on the road, so we have been conducting a number of tests in order to help us
understand the best way to do that.
In the most recent of these was something we call an Operational Readiness Test, or ORT.
This is a test where we try to do everything with a test Rover in exactly the same way as we would do it with the flight rover.
Rule #1 of an ORT is no peeking.
The other rover drivers and I were kept strictly away from the test bed, weren't allowed to go down there and look at the real
rover. And instead, we had to make all of our decisions based on data that was sent back by the test rover
that's very much like the data that would be sent back by Spirit. And in the same way, we had to command the test rover using
only the same kind of software and the same kind of procedures that we'll be using to command Spirit when we get ready to do this
extracation for real. Mars does not owe us a solution to this problem and there might not be one, but we are very confident that
we have the best possible plan under the circumstances and were ready to begin implementing it very soon.
It's going to be a slow and lengthy process taking weeks or maybe even months, but we'll keep you posted on Spirit's progress and
we hope you'll follow along. I'm JPL Mars Rover Driver Scott Maxwell.
This has been your Free Spirit Update.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology