Imagine Getting Stuck in a Drift – On Mars

I learned to drive in snow a long time ago in the hills south of Buffalo NY, where it really snows. You sort of expect to get stuck at least once every winter.

The Mars Rover, Spirit, got itself hubcap deep in a sand drift a lot further from home than I ever did. The Planetary Society’s AJS Rayl reports:

Somehow, as it roved northward along the western margin of Home Plate on Sol 1378 (November 18, 2007), Spirit rolled right smack -– all six wheels -– inside a shallow, dust-filled crater, where it spent most of the rest of November.

“We drove into this crater not realizing what it was until we were in it,” Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, principal investigator for rover science, informed during an interview yesterday.

They’ll get it out. Right?

After a week and a half of thrashing, popping at least one wheelie, the rover was only digging in deeper. On Wednesday, November 28, RPs sent up a series of commands instructing Spirit to do the dangerous -– drive forward. “If [Wednesday’s] drive didn’t work, I don’t think we had too many other cards to play,” Squyres said. “We were basically out of tricks.”

Did the rover, which has already exceeded its expected lifetime by, oh a factor of 8 or so, get free? You betchya.

At 5 a.m. Pacific time yesterday, Thursday, November 29, the rover sent home its telemetry. “We got one of the best downlinks we’ve gotten on this mission,” beamed Squyres. “We had an extraordinarily successful drive. The RPs were just magnificent. The intuition that they showed in designing a drive that did what it did, well, it was really their finest hour I think. We’re still in a precarious position, but we’ve got a fighting chance now,” added Squyres. Once Spirit escaped its the crater’s clutches and the team members could breathe a little easier, they christened it Tartarus. It was, after all, Squyres pointed out, “a pit of torment.”

The linked article is a wonderful synopsis of both rovers, their current state of health, and their plans to survive the coming Martian winter.

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