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NASA's Spirit Rover Survives Record Cold on Mars
NASA's Spirit Rover Survives Record Cold on Mars
31 Jul 2006
(Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Spirit remains healthy and continues to make progress on computer upgrades and scientific research, despite winter temperatures colder than any yet experienced during the rover's two and a half years on Mars. Models show that at the coldest part of the Martian night, around 5:00 a.m. Mars time, temperatures near the surface have dipped to approximately minus 97 degrees Celsius (minus 143 degrees Fahrenheit).

With the deepest part of the Martian winter just around the corner, Spirit is collecting about 284 watt-hours of electrical power each sol from the rover's solar array (a hundred watt-hours is the amount of electricity needed to light one 100-watt bulb for one hour). The shortest day, winter solstice in Mars' southern hemisphere, will arrive on Aug. 8, 2006. The lowest amount of solar energy the rover is expected to receive is about 275 watt-hours per sol.

Spirit has put the finishing touches on a new version of its flight software -- assembling, checking, and saving 200 sections of computer code transmitted from Earth in recent weeks. The software upgrade will give the rover enhanced autonomous operational capabilities. NASA plans for Spirit to switch from its current flight software to the new version in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Spirit is only one frame away from completing the long-anticipated "McMurdo panorama," a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter haven amid the "Columbia Hills" in Gusev Crater on Mars. The collection of images from the panoramic camera, as with all scientific data, has taken extra time to complete with the sun lower on the horizon and solar power levels on the wane. During the week, Spirit also used the microscopic imager to get a closer look at a small ripple nicknamed "Palmer."

For the next several weeks until Labor Day, Spirit will communicate with Earth only using UHF-band relay via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The X-band Spirit uses for communicating directly with Earth will not be available while that frequency is used intensively by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in the final stages of trimming its orbit around Mars.

Sol-by-sol summary:

Sol 908 (July 23, 2006): Spirit took microscopic images of Palmer.

Sol 909: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and used its miniature thermal emission spectrometer to study a rock target known as "Korolev2."

Sol 910: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and cleaned and calibrated the rock abrasion tool.

Sol 911: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and gathered remote-sensing information about a target known as "Druzhnaya."

Sol 912: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama.

Sol 913: Spirit took microscopic images of a target known as "Palmer2."

Sol 914 (June 29, 2006): Plans call for Spirit to continue work on the McMurdo panorama.

Odometry

As of sol 911 (July 26, 2006), Spirit's total odometry remained at 6,876.18 meters (4.27 miles).

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Last Updated: 31 Jul 2006