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Spirit rover's first dash for freedom is a short one

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Spirit rover on MarsA NASA rover mired in soft soil on Mars made its first escape attempt in months Tuesday, but the maneuver lasted less than a second before safety precautions shut it down.


The Spirit rover, which like its more mobile twin Opportunity was delivered to the Red Planet in 2004, has been stationary since May as mission managers sought to devise a plan to extricate it from a patch of rocks and loose soil known as Troy. Even with months of testing in a laboratory "sandbox" simulating Mars's terrain, NASA was unable to hatch a foolproof plan to free the rover, and mission leaders cautioned in a news conference last week that Spirit may be forced to live out the end of its mission in Troy.


According to an update from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the Mars Exploration Rover program is based, Spirit's first move on Tuesday was quashed quickly when the rover exceeded its preset tilt limit for the maneuver. Analysis of the data is ongoing, the lab said, and plans for a second extrication attempt will not be solidified until Wednesday or later.


The process of extricating Spirit from Troy could take months to complete, if it's possible at all, and mission managers said last week that no official progress review would be conducted until February.


Artist's impression of Mars rover: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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