back to article Spirit rover clocks up six years on Mars

NASA's Spirit Mars rover today passes its sixth anniversary on the Red Planet, albeit bogged down in sandy soil which looks likely to be its final resting place. Spirit arrived on Mars at 8:35 pm PST on 3 January, 2004 (04:35 GMT on 4 January), followed by its twin Opportunity on 24 January. The pair were intitially expected …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Something to admire

    Whichever way you look at it these martian rovers have been an outstanding achievement, lasting 6 years when the original plan was 3 months. I wish they build cars with so much reliability.

    I expect that these rovers will eventually become prime museum exhibits, possibly back here on earth, when man is able to get to and from Mars reliably. When that might be I couldn't say, but by the end of the current century might be feasible if we stop wasting money on invading and occupying foreign countries on some pretext of enhancing our security, and put the money to good use instead.

    Paris because the word 'invasion' conjures up thoughts that as a happily married man I really shouldn't be having.

  2. Gary F

    I have an idea

    Have they tried an inverted tachion pulse? Or failing that a remodulated plasma infusion with a synchronised ion discharge? No, perhaps a more simple approach could work. It could use its robotic arm to dig its way out with a spoon. NASA did remember to pack plastic cutlery didn't they? You can't travel anywhere without plastic cutlery.

    1. J 3


      I believe a towel would be even better...

    2. Lionel Baden

      nice idea but ...

      they only packed a spork

    3. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Sorry, that won't work

      It seems that NASA failed to equip the rovers with a main deflector array. And as you know, everything involves reconfiguring the main deflector array.

      I'll get my coat - the red and white one specifically designed to hide the middle-age spread.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Gary F

      I watched one of the NASA videos and they mentioned the possibility of trying to use the arm to extricate the rover , but the general gist she gave was that if they do that theres a good chance they'll bust a lot of the instruments on the arm. Which means if using the arm fails to move it then the rover will still be stuck but now with a useless arm.

    5. TeeCee Gold badge

      Plastic cutlery?


      Never in the field of human endeavour has a problem been found that cannot be fixed with duct tape and/or a coat hanger.

    6. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
      Thumb Up

      simpler solution

      why not just reverse the polarity of the neutron flow? Worked for Tom Baker...

      All joking aside, I doff my chapeau to the intrepid little Spirit. Job well done. If humans ever set foot there, they should collect the little guy and return him home to a proper hero's welcome.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Rescue mission

    I demand a rescue mission to help the plucky little lander. If it was human we (probably!) would.

    Disney should pay since they will build the theme park round it in 2156

  4. Jonathan Richards 1

    Push-ups for six-year olds

    Has anyone thought about using the robotic arm itself to lift the sunken corner of the rover? I don't know if the geometry even permits it, except that says "The robotic arm is capable of movement in much the same way as a human arm with an elbow and wrist, and can place instruments directly up against rock and soil targets of interest."

    GO, because we all wish it would.

  5. Stoneshop

    A small broom

    attached to its robotic arm, and it could simply sweep clean its solar panels.

  6. Tom Paine

    More detail from the Planetary Society

    AJS Rayl's detailed monthly update at the Planetary Society has more detail of the unexpected earth voltage, busticated motors board, not-working/working/not-working front right wheel, and the chances of survival.

    Oppy's still going strong, though, on it's epic journey towards the distant rim of Endeavour crater.

  7. bexley
    Thumb Up


    I think this is a really positive thing.

    Not only did it last 4 years longer than anyone thought possible but now it's stuck we can still use it for other things.

    All it needs is a gust iof wind to keep the solar pannels clean.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      In other words

      it needs a blow. Don't we all??

  8. Matthew Anderson

    Rescue Mission!

    Considering it's just a bot in a lab on Area 66, designed to show the world how elite the USA is, I think it should be easy enough to fix :-D

    A faked rescue mission would prove just how much NASA has advanced and further show the world not to mess with America, less you want to be force fed LCD and subjected to radiation to see if your legs fall off. Alternatively, if you are already legless, you may even grow new ones, by the dozen.

  9. TseTT

    Why not,

    Just press the escape button !!!!?

    1. jackharrer


      I suggest to load from the last known working save game. Unless they forgot to save for some time...

  10. Steve X
    Thumb Up

    Mars mission

    NASA's talking about spending billions on ever more fancy missions. Given how amazingly reliable these little guys have been, why not just box up 20 or 30 more and send them? The development costs have already been paid, manufacturing them by the dozen won't be that expensive (relatively speaking). That should give 5-10 more years of data while they work on a real souped-up mission.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      manufacturing them *IS* that expensive

      Don't forget these things are hand-made by talented and careful people, and then have the hell tested out of them. Communication & GPS satellites are "made by the dozen" and they're still expensive for the same reason.

      The other expensive part is simply getting them there. You have to put them on an expensive & complex rocket, hope they don't go boom on the pad, keep an eye on them for a couple years, then hope the Martian Spacecraft Snatcher doesn't eat them when they get there, and that they survive entry & landing. After all that, actually roving around is a walk in the park.

      But yeah, I'd hope they'd debug the motor problem, then send a couple of "MER 2.0" back myself, rather than a new unproved design.

      1. Geoff Johnson


        The Rover chassis has proved to be an excellent design but maybe some new tools would be nice.

        Something (laser maybe) to vaporize rock, and a Mass Spectrometer would be nice. The mass spec could also sample the atmosphere to see where the methane is coming from. Above all, now we know the platform can last as long as the solar panels stay free of dust, let's add a feather duster.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Manufacturing costs

        I'm posting anonymously because my employer has instruments on the rovers.

        For the rovers and part on them, about 100 prototyping models were built (that is, 100 rovers which never got off the ground, and 100 models of every device on them).

        Flight test and spares are another 20 items. Making more rovers does not require building more test models - and as has been proven with Hubble - ground test spares can be flown if need be.

        There are enough flight test spares to trivially launch 2 more rovers. Personally I'd push for better tyres now that we know the composition of the surface and some form of "dust brush" for the panels as well as better "cold rating" for the components given that we know the design can survive several seasons.

        HOWEVER: the rovers are quite limited in what they can do. Flying 20 more would be a good thing - but so would flying 20 more Beagles (my own estimate after reviewing all the documentation and talking to people involved is that if enough funding was made to fly 12 then only 1 (possbly zero) would have failed - Beagle suffered from chronic funds shortages which led to catastrophic decisons to reuse parachutes/airbags which were repaired prototype testers and which likely simply froze solid en-route due to leftover moisture (even after operators of the UK's largest vacuum chamber spent 6-8 weeks doing their absolute best to get moisture out of the airbags they were still seeing traces when time ran out - and the attempt destroyed a number of very expensive pumps never intended to cope with the amount of water involved))

        The proposed larger missions are _much_ larger physically than the rovers - carry a lot more instrumentation and have much bigger/more powerful wheels/treads (and solar panels) than spirit/opportunity.

        It would be nice to see all the missions fly. That's unlikely to happen in any of our lifetimes unless payload costs drop by 99%. Until then what goes is based on who has money and the political will to send things - space exploration is a strange, political universe which attaches far more importance to the flag-waving aspects of launches, manned programs and high profile results than to funding the ongoing science required to actually support these activities both after the rocket's disappeared from the ground and when things are in planning stages.

        "We" (worldwide) are in grave danger of losing vast amounts of irreplaceable space mission data because no entity is willing to fund storage or distribution. In a decade I hope that isn't being said about data from these incredible wee rovers.

  11. OpenSauce

    Time for roach propulsion?

    Maybe the next rovers should try using the current darling propulsion of the robot world - Cockroach legs?

    Or maybe jump up to a BigDog, if enough power could be generated.

    As regards being designed to last months, I doubt that - designed to last a year or two, with the expectation that it would fail after a few months more like. Still, a fantastic achievement in data gathering.

    As for sending humans to Mars, I'd rather see a proper moon base first, like scifi expected long ago.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Wrong type of sand?

    "Telemetry indicates that the rover moved forward 3 millimeters (0.12 inch), left 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) and down (sinkage) 6 millimeters (0.24 inch). The right-front and right-rear wheels did not move.""

    So about the same amount of movement achieved by some British drivers when there is more than 2cm of snow on the ground.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ..the rovers are made from COTS parts assembled by a junior electronics club over one amazing summer weekend when together they learned as much about life and love as they did about transistors and integrated circuits..

    Two Tamyia TLT-1's, a phonograph turntable and one of those grabber arm things they give to old folks and garbage collectors, and there you have it - one mars rover.

    If they had spent one tenth of what they have claimed they spent on the two rovers, spirit and opportunity would be fanging across the martian landscape at 200kph and flinging surface samples into low earth orbit for collection.

    This mission represents several hundred dollars in materials and labour, and several millions of dollars in hookers and home cinema equipment.

    It is why everybody wants to be a scientist.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Coming soon

    On ebay:

    Extremely reliable NASA robot. Full service history available (on the Internet). Buyer collects.

    There, job's a good 'un. And I'll give Paris a rest for now as my wrists are too tired and limp.

  15. Squits

    I want those two plucky buggers rescued

    They've done so much to help us understand more about Mars and that, they deserve to be rescued, even if it takes 20 years, they need to be transported home.

    Thank god they aren't intelligent themselves, that would be such a bitch

    1. Rob

      Saying that reminds me of...

      ... the Star Trek movie when the big space ship happens to be a vessel (sorry wessel) for the voyager probe.

      Prehaps in many years time aliens will think these poor little fellas need a ship built for them to return home.

  16. Winkypop Silver badge


    Perhaps some homeless Martian dude will walk by and wipe it's solar panel.

    Although he won't be too chuffed when Rover doesn't have change for a 100 Marsuvian Dinar!

    Seriously, this whole mission has been a (rare) credit to homo sapiens!

  17. Zad

    Let's off-road!

    From what I can tell, the extraction methods seem to be along the lines of mashing the throttle to the floor for a few minutes, and then taking a photo. Somewhat reminiscent of the less experienced drivers out there in the snow.

    Now, I'm sure they have considered this (actually, I'm not sure they have, because I'm posting this) but how about rocking the wheels? 1 actuator rotation forward, 2 back, 3 forward... etc etc. This would compact the dusty sand beneath the wheels and offer better traction. The little "wiggle room" it generates helps a small amount of momentum to build up and reduces wheelspin. It also allows any sand that falls in to drop under the wheel and raise it slightly.

    On the matter of construction cost. I believe the major reason these 2 wee beasties have been so successful is down to how they were designed and built. There was no time (18 months) and very little money to get these rovers together so the engineers used spares and existing designs from a previous mission, with relatively few modifications. Having already extensively tested and space-rated the components and subassemblies meant that huge chunks of time (and money) were saved. This relatively minimal approach to the project meant that management interference was much reduced and the engineers could get in with what they do best.

  18. Kevin Bross

    Use arm (or neck) for lift?

    Any chance to use the arm ("instrument deployment device") or neck (PanCam mast assembly) to change the angle of the solar cells so the rover doesn't freeze?

    I don't know if the mast can rotate down to ground level, but the arm certainly can. Extending either element down to the ground runs the risk of getting the arm or neck stuck, but if the rover freezes, it's game over anyways. Perhaps the arm is strong enough to lift the rover to the right angle to survive the winter.

    [Best of all possible worlds would have the arm get enough purchase on solid ground to get the rover to free itself from the sand trap, but that's probably too optimistic, even for Spirit.]

  19. robin penny

    Use those rocks

    There seem to be quite a number of small rocks in the picture. How about using the arm to push these in front of the left hand wheel. Hopefully the spin would cause these to sink under the wheel and provide grip, perhaps even lift if the wheel ridges catch on them. It might also create an additional obstacle..., but it seems like they have nothing to loose from trying it. Maybe a few at a time.

  20. Charles King

    rocking the wheels

    I suspect the dust trap it's in has very fine particles and effectively works like quicksand, so rocking the wheels will simply dig it in deeper.

    As Gary F mentioned, there are lots of tried-and-tested solutions available though. All this talk of solar panels indicates that they're trying to reroute the power, which is always a good bet ;).

  21. richard 69

    dust and sand traps on mars?

    who woulda thought it?

    note to nasa: any 12 year old schoolboy could have told you that those wheels could get bogged down in fine or wet sand, and, as mars has sand storms, surely at some point the sand will cover the solar panels? einstein?

    it's still a great achievement though, take 3 points.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on....

    NASA A: designed and built the damn thing. B launched it. C: made it traverse millions of miles to a world we know *nothing about. D Actually landed it. E. Did loads of experiments on an alien world and F: Marvelled at our achievement.

    Of course they have tried the arm and any/every other method of freeing it from its cold powerless grave you thickets.

    1. robin penny


      Of course they have tried everything already: - I don't see any evidence of stones piled by the left wheel...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Telemetry indicates that the rover moved forward 3 millimeters (0.12 inch), left 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) and down (sinkage) 6 millimeters (0.24 inch). The right-front and right-rear wheels did not move.

    Very restricted movement. It probably stopped on private land & got clamped.

  24. Mayhem

    all these ideas for freeing it

    From earlier reports, NASA has set up a sandpit with identical conditions back at home base so that they can test out each theory before actually trying it in space.

    The problem with the whole rock em back and forth thing is the lag associated with the rover being on Mars, which means they have to send a series of commands and hope for the best, then wait for the telemetry data to see what happened. You can't do the old lean out the window and look at your wheels trick so well with a delay of up to 40 min before you know what your actions did.

    They broke out of the last sand trap with the rocking the wheels idea, but that broke one of the wheels which indirectly caused them to get stuck this time. I suspect they are being more circumspect now with the whole lack of power thing.

  25. petur

    @Rescue Mission

    Why not send the other rover over there to pull it out of the sand?

    1. Steve Cooper

      Other Rover's donning his RAC jacket as we speak

      Because Oppotunity's on the other side of the planet - might take a few years to get there!

  26. Yorkshirepudding

    our brave little bot

    lets hope some errant decepticon doesnt stomp on it

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We've got Spirit, yes we do!.....

    (You Brits who don't make it to high school (American) football games probably miss the point of the title )

    I bet this is the last time NASA trys to be hip and has a rover "lowered".

    Still, you have congratulate the team involved. I had not thought about the rovers for awhile, but six years is on heck of an achievement!

    The next rover should weigh about 10 tons, so its big enough to pick up Spirit and bring it home. Plus it could have a built-in boombox and a wet bar so it can try to coax those pesky martians out of their subterranean hiding places with promises of a party.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    One of the issues raised is with respect to the wheels which have got bogged down in sand. Which makes me think that next time they design one of these things they might want to consider either using a track drive propolsion system (to spread the load over a wider area), or perhaps to have some sort of inflatable built into the wheel so that if the wheels start spinning in sand the order can be made to inflate the balloons to stop the sinking.

    The other point I noted above was that people here are referring to these "little things". A while back when I visited Farnborough airshow they had a life-sized copy of the rover and I recall that it was as big as a car. This isn't something you would put in your dirty mac pocket.

    Paris because I mentioned dirty macs.

  29. mittfh

    Here's an idea...

    Next time you build a rover, hire a few Robot Wars contestants. After all, what use is a robot on that programme that can't right itself when it's been flipped by a competitor, or can't escape from the clutches of Sir Killalot? Surely similar technology could be used to ensure martian rovers don't get stuck in the mud (quite literally, in Spirit's case)...

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