Traveling days are done for Spirit

I’ve been a long-time fan of the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, rather slowly rolling across the Martian landscape. Originally slated for a mission of just 90 days, both rovers have recently passed the 6-year mark, providing scientific insights and opportunities (if you’ll pardon the pun) that no one dreamed possible when their missions began. One of them, however, has had a combination of age and bad luck bring its roving days to an end:

The roving days are over for NASA’s Mars rover Spirit after more than six years rolling across the Martian surface, the space agency announced Tuesday.

NASA engineers have decided to abandon efforts to rescue the Spirit rover from the deep Martian sand that snared it in May 2009. Instead, they are trying to prepare the rover to survive the harsh winter ahead in Mars’ southern hemisphere. If the rover survives, it will serve as a fixed science outpost, mission managers said.

Besides being stuck in sand that NASA director Doug McCuistion called “a golfer’s [worst] nightmare,” Spirit is dragging 2 of its 6 wheels making it impossible, as a practical matter, to get free and start moving again. While NASA says this isn’t a day to mourn, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that Spirit’s ride is done. Her mission has been a success beyond even our wildest hopes, however, and she’s not dead yet.

Check out the current status of both rovers at NASA’s JPL web site.

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