NASA: Mars rover goes quiet as Martian winter begins
Stuck in the dirt, the rover Spirit goes into low-power hibernation
Computerworld - Months after getting stuck in the Martian dirt, a NASA rover has stopped communicating with its controllers here on Earth.
The space agency said late yesterday that its Mars Exploration Rover Spirit did not make a communication session that had been scheduled for Tuesday. Scientists expect that the robotic machine has entered into a low-power hibernation mode, where most functions are ended to conserve valuable, and dwindling, energy.
"We may not hear from Spirit again for weeks or months, but we will be listening at every opportunity, and our expectation is that Spirit will resume communications when the batteries are sufficiently charged," said John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin Martian rover, Opportunity, in a written statement.
After six years roaming across and working on Mars, Spirit was deemed permanently stuck in the dirt on the surface of the planet in January.
NASA scientists, however, remained hopeful that the robot could still conduct experiments to help them better understand the planet. With the rover trapped in one spot, engineers at the space agency are concerned, however, that the machine won't survive the extremely frigid temperatures of the upcoming Martian winter.
Spirit got into trouble last year while working its way south near the western edge of a plateau NASA has dubbed Home Plate. The vehicle's wheels broke through the crusty surface and got stuck in some soft, salty sand underneath. Since then, NASA engineers have worked tirelessly to find a way to extricate the rover from the sand, but the vehicle now has two immobile tires on one side.
Spirit needs to be able to use solar energy to heat itself enough to make it through the frigid winter. NASA engineers tried to try to angle the vehicle's solar array so it's pointing more toward the sun. If the rover doesn't capture enough solar energy to wake up and run a few instruments, it may not generate enough heat to withstand the extremely frigid Martian winter.
Spirit's robotic twin, Opportunity, has been having better luck, however. NASA announced just last week that it outfitted Opportunity with a software upgrade that allows it to now make some of its own decisions.
Over this past winter, engineers uploaded artificial intelligence software to enable the rover to decide on its own whether it wants to stop and analyze rocks spotted during its travels across the Martian surface. The space agency noted that the upgrade will provide a good test of robotic autonomy, which it hopes to use more fully in future NASA space missions.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Read more about Hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- Simplifying Product Design In A Complex World Product design engineering has moved far beyond the confines of ever-more powerful workstations. Companies can't afford to restrict projects to using only local...
- A Reference Architecture for the Internet of Things The aim of this is to provide Architects and Developers of IoT projects with an effective starting point that covers the major requirements...
- How to Reduce Hardware & Infrastructure Costs Through Data In this paper, we take a look at how organizations are revisiting their network and server architecture in a bid to address the...
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to...
- Will the Real Endpoint Threat Detection and Response Please Stand Up? This webinar explores new technologies & process for protecting endpoints from advanced attackers as well as the innovations that are pushing the envelope... All Hardware White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!