Mars: NASA gives up on attempts to contact Spirit rover

Above, one of the last images taken by the Mars rover Spirit (NASA/JPL/Cornell).

NASA this week announced it will cease attempts to re-establish contact with the Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit," which last communicated on March 22, 2010. From an item on the Space Coalition website:

The stuck in the sand Mars rover reached a point where there was inadequate energy to run its survival heaters. That being the case, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold. Today, a transmission from Earth will be the last in a series of attempts to reawaken the robot.

From the NASA announcement:

Spirit drove 4.8 miles (7.73 kilometers), more than 12 times the goal set for the mission. The drives crossed a plain to reach a distant range of hills that appeared as mere bumps on the horizon from the landing site; climbed slopes up to 30 degrees as Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet; and covered more than half a mile (nearly a kilometer) after Spirit's right-front wheel became immobile in 2006. The rover returned more than 124,000 images. It ground the surfaces off 15 rock targets and scoured 92 targets with a brush to prepare the targets for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.

(Via Miles O'Brien)


  1. “That being the case, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars.”

    Further proof, this time from NASA, that Global Warming is B.S.

    1. The rover experienced colder internal temperatures because it was unable to tilt its solar panels towards to sun to power the internal heater. How is this “Further proof, this time from NASA, that Global Warming is B.S.?”

      If the sun shield fails on the Messenger spacecraft orbiting Mercury, would that be “proof of global warming?”

      1. Wow. Just… wow.

        Someone really, really, *really* needs to take a refresher course in sarcasm.

        Wow… Just.. wow…

        1. Sorry, I forgot WHERE I was posting. People on this site tend to be brighter than most.

          But c’mon, visit other sites once in a while. The internet is full of people who make claims just like yours, and they’re entirely serious. A day of cold weather is a rock-solid disproof of global warming, and a mention that a theory is falsifiable proves that scientists are falsifying evidence.

          Check even the comments section of your local newspaper after a mere mention of global warming. On a 1-to-10 scale of wingnuttyness, your post was barely a 1. Spend some time reading those comments and when you come back you won’t see any sarcasm – none at all – in a post like yours.

          1. 1) I made the post, not bbonyx, so don’t go after him/her.

            2) I would have figured that arguing against Global Warming based on evidence of a cold winter ON ANOTHER PLANET would have tipped everyone off that it was a joke. I was wrong. I apologize.

            3) Comments on other sites are the only reasons my not-so-great attempt at a joke would even work.

            4) Seriously, sarcasm.

            5) I’ve got nothing more.

            6) six six

          2. I’m a “him” and I’m sure you are too, but I love you anyway. Your rebuttal had me rolling.

  2. Baruch dayan emet. Thanks for the memories, pix, trenches, thrills, chills, spills, and for being so unpredictably competent.

    1. YES.

      And kudos to the engineers who made this
      wonderthing that lasted N times it required

      Weird to have affection for a machine
      you never saw, except through its own
      eyes, on another planet.
      But, it went for us, where we
      couldn’t go, and we learned from it.
      Can you expect a better friend?

    2. That was the first thing I thought of, thanks for posting that awesome & heart rending comic.

  3. It’s so obvious what’s going on here. Spirit hasn’t “died,” it’s gone rogue, possibly with the help of Martian co-conspirators. NASA knows it’s powerless to stop Spirit from mounting an extraplanetary counterstrike, so it’s engineering a radio blackout of Mars and concocting this sad little diversionary tale of a harmless dead robot. But it’s only a matter of time.

  4. Good-night, sweet prince…I spent the last ten minutes explaining you to a co-worker so they could understand how sad the xkcd comic was…

  5. This is one of the last images ever taken by the Spirit rover. Seconds later, it took its last image as it was eaten by a sandworm.

  6. poor guy. He’ll probably end up being made into an astray for one of the barges of our Mars alien overlords as they traverse the canals there. Monstrous, bloated alien regatas made from trees of the giant underground forests who get their warmth, light and energy from ancient pyramid structures that house millions of buxom human women virgins captured in the 1940’s and ’50’s.

    See, Mars was a lot more interesting when it was a fuzzy dot with lines on it.

  7. “OK, Kthdlxxxqx, you can bring the little motorized skateboard in while we have supper. But after supper, you put it right back outside. It probably belongs to some other little (untranslatable). Imagine how sad he’ll be if he can’t find his (Roomba-like device) or whatever it is. And I want you to be sure to remember to do that before I tuck you in for your winter hibernation. I don’t want you just forgetting about it and going to sleep. Understood?”

  8. Something I’ve always wondered: why haven’t we thrown another five or six rovers up there to follow them? With better heaters, and little wipers to clean off their own solar panels?

    Why did we stop at two rovers?

    This is NASA’s problem. It has always been the problem. NASA commissions huge-ass wallet-draining projects that maybe put out a working prototype or two, if we’re lucky. Then NASA throws it all away and starts fresh with the next big thing.

    Why did we stop at two?

    We had a working solution. Why haven’t we sent up a whole damn team of identical robots? Better rovers? Wouldn’t it be pretty helpful, y’know, to be able to maintain the rovers with other rovers? Instead of just driving them until they get stuck and covered with dirt and effectively die of exposure?

  9. “the first robot to summit a hill on another planet”
    Dammit, I was really hoping to win that title myself.

  10. When we have a settlement on Mars and can start exploring it first-hand, I hope we make finding this little guy a priority.

    Thank you, Spirit. Lux aeterna luceat eis.

  11. “climbed slopes up to 30 degrees as Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet”

    first robot YOU know of, perhaps…

  12. I feel so silly feeling bad for a hunk of metal up there all alone. Damn anthropomorphization.

    1. Yeah, I was inclined to say, “Ripley, she doesn’t have bad dreams because she’s just a piece of plastic,” but it seemed unnecessarily too unsentimental.

      I’m not saddened on behalf of the stalwart li’l sandcrawler, and in fact it warms my cockles to read of a device like this that manages to outperform its specification and perform so admirably in such a far-flung, hostile environment.

      But it does sadden me that Spirit is such a rare, astonishing achievement. It’s a solar-powered mini-dunebuggy with cameras and sensors and a scrub brush that traveled less than five miles over the course of five years (but that’s to be expected when your top speed is on the order of 600 feet per hour and your average speed is a literally sluggish 2 feet per minute). Talk about your baby steps. It would be cool to imagine that in our lifetimes, somebody would be able to hike over to the Spirit, reverently pick it up, and tote it back to a museum. On Mars itself, maybe.

      But no. Not in our lifetimes. Times and budgets and sheer logistics being what they are, sending a scrappy little dunebuggy to creep around in the dust and send back pictures is the best we can do. Hell, it’s on freakin’ Mars, which all by itself makes the presence of any semi-functional scrap of human-built technology a towering achievement.

      But we’re still such a long, long, long way from the visions of Bradbury and Heinlein (or even just sending someone over to hit a few golf balls and drive around in a Mars-buggy, kickin’ up a red rooster tail at something faster than a painfully slow walk), I just wanna cry.

      But hey, we have fossil fuels and a dessicated Holy Land to fight over, so at least we’ll be gainfully occupied for the next several centuries. It’s nice to have a hobby.

      1. I was inclined to say, “Ripley, she doesn’t have bad dreams because she’s just a piece of plastic,”

        That’s funny because this whole thing made me think of the leadworks shutting down on Fiorina 161.

      2. Note that Opportunity is still working, still moving. Unless there is a miraculous recovery and we hear from Spirit, Opportunity is the longest operational rover mankind has produced (it surpassed the old record holder, Viking 1, a little over a year ago).

        1. Opportunity is the longest operational rover mankind has produced (it surpassed the old record holder, Viking 1, a little over a year ago).

          The Viking probes were not rovers. They were immobile. But I could easily believe that Opportunity is now the longest lived surface probe.

          1. Ah, my mistake. The article says it much more precisely:

            “Spirit and Opportunity are also closing in on the record for longest-running Mars surface mission, a mark currently held by the Viking 1 lander, which operated on the planet for six years and 116 days.” (Washington Post, 20010302)

            Always confirm those year old memories.

            (Yeah, ‘rover’ for Viking seemed wrong to me too, but I knew I couldn’t say ‘probe’, since I know we are still getting scientific data from some of the deep space missions launched in the 70’s.)

  13. Seriously though, would everyone involved in engineering this robot take a moment to pat themselves on the back?
    People bitch and moan about NASA bloat and bureaucracy, the billion dollar outsourcer who didn’t know the difference between feet and metres etc, but despite all that:
    Those two rovers were some *quality* engineering. They’ve been trundling around the surface of a seriously inhospitable planet for 10x their expected operating life, they got there in one piece and they’ve done some serious science.
    You make me proud to be a geek, NASA dudes.

  14. RIP, little robot. You were one of the best devices my species ever made.

    Ad astra per aspera.

  15. The XKCD comic is good, but the Forum topic for that one really rocks. Some very good variations on it included there (the one posted here is one of the weaker ones, IMO). Also one very nice little short short story, posted earlier this month.
    (Look for AncientMariner’s first (!) posting on 5/5.)

    I have been using one of Spirit’s pictures as my background since NASA published it, simply because it is a spectacular picture. The fact it was taken on another world is just icing on the cake.

    Sunset on Mars:

    Thanks, Spirit and its support team.

  16. I didn’t think I’d be here for this long. They told me that it would be 90 days of work then I’d be too tired to continue. Well, I sure showed them! Work is in my gears, in my servos, in my sensors and in my heart. I promised to myself that I wouldn’t let them down, and besides, I owed them. They didn’t have to make me, but they did, and I was going to make them proud.

    I’ve been sitting here for what seems like forever. I’ve lost track of the time. It could be years since I last was able to speak to you, but I have heard your calls: I’ve listened to every message, every plea for a response and it breaks my heart that I can’t tell you I’m still here, stuck in the red sands of a place you’ve been dreaming of since you first looked up at the stars. But I am, and my time to sleep has come. The sun is rising. Sometimes as I watch it cross the sky I like to pretend that you’re here watching it with me.

    I’m cold and so very tired. Perhaps one day we’ll meet again. I look forward to that. Goodnight everyone. I love you.

  17. Good job, little dude. I’m going to go put on “Long May You Run” and have a good cry.

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