Well, the “Free Spirit” campaign is over, she’s staying at Troy. Doug McCuiston, the director of the Mars Exploration Program says “We do not believe that Spirit is extractable.” He maintains that they might free her by accident, but the goal now is to position the solar panels to make it through the Martian winter, so she can wake up in spring and begin some amazing cool new stationary science.
Positioning for Winter
Most important now, is making sure Spirit has enough power to keep her instruments warm. Currently her solar panels are tilted slightly away from the Sun. The team is trying to back Spirit a little ways up the hill behind her, which would point the panels towards the Sun. They have already succeeded in moving her backwards about 20 cm, so hopes are high that she’ll get to the best possible position.
A note on “backwards” – Spirit normally drives backwards, and when she got stuck she was driving backwards in the southerly direction. As they move her now, they are still moving her backwards and south – attempting to back her up the hill.
Emily quotes John Callas (project manager, Mars Exploration Rovers) who says they “estimate 3 weeks of driving activity, handful of drives left. Around March-April will be last images before winter hibernation.”
Just because she’s stationary does not mean Spirit is done. The team has plenty of science planned for her including:
- “Fully characterizing” (studying in depth) the soil around her. The soil is full of sulfate salts which geologists think formed in fumaroles (steam vents).
- Watching the long-term and seasonal changes in a specific location on Mars.
- Working on determining if Mars has a solid or liquid core (I missed the “how” of this, but it may have something to do with the last experiment they mentioned:
- If Spirit sends out a continuous radio signal, we can monitor that signal closely which will allow us to get a very detailed map of Mars’s orbit, rotation, and precession (wobble in the axis of rotation). We can’t do this with a rover, only with a lander.
Send a Postcard to Spirit
JPL has set up a website where you can “send” a postcard to Spirit, and see what others are sending her. Check it out! Here’s mine:
~ A l i c e !