Spirit (rover)

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NASA Mars Rover.jpg
Artistic view of a Mars Exploration Rover on Mars
Mission type Rover
Operator NASA
COSPAR ID 2003-027A
Website JPL's Mars Exploration Rover
Mission duration Planned: 90 Martian solar days (~92 Earth days)
Operational: 2269 days from landing to last contact (2208 sols)
Mobile: 1944 Earth days landing to final embedding (1892 sols)
Total: 2695 days from landing to mission end (2623 sols)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type Mars Exploration Rover
Dry mass 185 kilograms (408 lb) (Rover only)
Start of mission
Launch date June 10, 2003 (2003-06-10)[1][2]
Rocket Delta II 7925-9.5[2][3]
Launch site Cape Canaveral SLC-17A
End of mission
Last contact 22 March 2010; 25 May 2011 (2011-05-26)[1]
Orbital parameters
Reference system Heliocentric (transfer)
Mars rover
Spacecraft component Rover
Landing date January 4, 2004, 04:35 UTC SCET
MSD 46216 03:35 AMT
Landing site 14°34′06″S 175°28′21″E / 14.5684°S 175.472636°E / -14.5684; 175.472636 (Spirit rover)[4]
Distance covered 7.73 km (4.8 mi)

File:Nasa mer marvin.png
The launch patch for Spirit, featuring Marvin the Martian

Mars rovers (NASA)
← Sojourner Curiosity

Spirit, also known as MER-A (Mars Exploration Rover – A) or MER-2, is a robotic rover on Mars, active from 2004 to 2010.[1] It was one of two rovers of NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity (MER-B), landed on the other side of the planet. Its name was chosen through a NASA-sponsored student essay competition. The rover became stuck in late 2009, and its last communication with Earth was sent on March 22, 2010.

The rover completed its planned 90-sol mission. Aided by cleaning events that resulted in more energy from its solar panels, Spirit went on to function effectively over twenty times longer than NASA planners expected. Spirit also logged 7.73 km (4.8 mi) of driving instead of the planned 600 m (0.4 mi),[5] allowing more extensive geological analysis of Martian rocks and planetary surface features. Initial scientific results from the first phase of the mission (the 90-sol prime mission) were published in a special issue of the journal Science.[6]

On May 1, 2009 (5 years, 3 months, 27 Earth days after landing; 21.6 times the planned mission duration), Spirit became stuck in soft soil.[7] This was not the first of the mission's "embedding events" and for the following eight months NASA carefully analyzed the situation, running Earth-based theoretical and practical simulations, and finally programming the rover to make extrication drives in an attempt to free itself. These efforts continued until January 26, 2010 when NASA officials announced that the rover was likely irrecoverably obstructed by its location in soft soil,[8] though it continued to perform scientific research from its current location.[9]

The rover continued in a stationary science platform role until communication with Spirit stopped on sol 2210 (March 22, 2010).[10][11] JPL continued to attempt to regain contact until May 24, 2011, when NASA announced that efforts to communicate with the unresponsive rover had ended, calling the mission complete.[12][13][14][15] A formal farewell took place at NASA headquarters after the 2011 Memorial Day holiday and was televised on NASA TV.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington.


Delta II Heavy lifting off with MER-A on June 10, 2003

The scientific objectives of the Mars Exploration Rover mission were to:[16]

  • Search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity. In particular, samples sought will include those that have minerals deposited by water-related processes such as precipitation, evaporation, sedimentary cementation or hydrothermal activity.
  • Determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites.
  • Determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry. Such processes could include water or wind erosion, sedimentation, hydrothermal mechanisms, volcanism, and cratering.
  • Perform calibration and validation of surface observations made by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter instruments. This will help determine the accuracy and effectiveness of various instruments that survey Martian geology from orbit.
  • Search for iron-containing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water, such as iron-bearing carbonates.
  • Characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them.
  • Search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present.
  • Assess whether those environments were conducive to life.

NASA sought evidence of life on Mars, beginning with the question of whether the Martian environment was ever suitable for life. Life forms known to science require water, so the history of water on Mars is a critical piece of knowledge. Although the Mars Exploration Rovers did not have the ability to detect life directly, they offered very important information on the habitability of the environment during the planet's history.

Design and construction

Annotated rover diagram
Spirit rover images its lander on the surface of Mars on January 18/19, 2004 (Spirit Sol 16)[17]

Spirit (and its twin, Opportunity) are six-wheeled, solar-powered robots standing 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) high, 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) wide and 1.6 meters (5.2 ft) long and weighing 180 kilograms (400 lb). Six wheels on a rocker-bogie system enable mobility over rough terrain. Each wheel has its own motor. The vehicle is steered at front and rear and is designed to operate safely at tilts of up to 30 degrees. Maximum speed is 5 centimetres per second (2.0 in/s);[18] 0.18 kilometers per hour (0.11 mph), although average speed is about 1 centimetre per second (0.39 in/s). Both Spirit and Opportunity have pieces of the fallen World Trade Center's metal on them that were "turned into shields to protect cables on the drilling mechanisms".[19][20]

Solar arrays generate about 140 watts for up to four hours per Martian day (sol) while rechargeable lithium ion batteries store energy for use at night. Spirit's onboard computer uses a 20 MHz RAD6000 CPU with 128 MB of DRAM, 3 MB of EEPROM, and 256 MB of flash memory. The rover's operating temperature ranges from −40 to +40 °C (−40 to 104 °F) and radioisotope heater units provide a base level of heating, assisted by electrical heaters when necessary. A gold film and a layer of silica aerogel provide insulation.

Communications depends on an omnidirectional low-gain antenna communicating at a low data rate and a steerable high-gain antenna, both in direct contact with Earth. A low gain antenna is also used to relay data to spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Fixed science instruments include

The rover arm holds the following instruments

  • Mössbauer spectrometer (MB) MIMOS II – used for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils.
  • Alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) – close-up analysis of the abundances of elements that make up rocks and soils.
  • Magnets – for collecting magnetic dust particles.
  • Microscopic Imager (MI) – obtains close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils.
  • Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) – exposes fresh material for examination by instruments on board.

The cameras produce 1024-pixel by 1024-pixel images, the data is compressed, stored, and transmitted later.

Mission overview

Spirit landing site, as imaged by MRO (December 4, 2006); click image to enlarge
An overall view of MER-A Spirit landing site (denoted with a star)

The primary surface mission for Spirit was planned to last at least 90 sols. The mission received several extensions and lasted about 2,208 sols. On August 11, 2007, Spirit obtained the second longest operational duration on the surface of Mars for a lander or rover at 1282 Sols, one sol longer than the Viking 2 lander. Viking 2 was powered by a nuclear cell whereas Spirit is powered by solar arrays. Until Opportunity overtook it on May 19, 2010, the Mars probe with longest operational period was Viking 1 that lasted for 2245 Sols on the surface of Mars. On March 22, 2010, Spirit sent its last communication, thus falling just over a month short of surpassing Viking 1's operational record. An archive of weekly updates on the rover's status can be found at the Spirit Update Archive.[21]

Spirit's total odometry as of March 22, 2010 (sol 2210) is 7,730.50 meters (4.80 mi).[22]

Mission timeline


The Spirit Mars rover and lander arrived successfully on the surface of Mars on 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004. This was the start of its 90-sol mission, but solar cell cleaning events would mean it was the start of a much longer mission, lasting until 2010.

Landing site: Columbia Memorial Station

Annotated Columbia Hills panorama from the Spirit landing site

Spirit was targeted to a site that appears to have been affected by liquid water in the past, the crater Gusev, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater about 10 km (6.2 mi) from the center of the target ellipse[23] at 14°34′18″S 175°28′43″E / 14.5718°S 175.4785°E / -14.5718; 175.4785.[24]

After the airbag-protected landing craft settled onto the surface, the rover rolled out to take panoramic images. These give scientists the information they need to select promising geological targets and drive to those locations to perform on-site scientific investigations. The panoramic image below shows a slightly rolling surface, littered with small rocks, with hills on the horizon up to 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) away.[25] The MER team named the landing site "Columbia Memorial Station," in honor of the seven astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

"Sleepy Hollow," a shallow depression in the Mars ground at the right side of the above picture, was targeted as an early destination when the rover drove off its lander platform. NASA scientists were very interested in this crater. It is 9 meters (30 ft) across and about 12 meters (39 ft) north of the lander.

First color image

First color image compiled from images by Spirit; it was the highest resolution color image taken on another planet.

To the right is the first color image derived from images taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. It was the highest resolution image taken on the surface of another planet. According to the camera designer Jim Bell of Cornell University, the panoramic mosaic consists of four pancam images high by three wide. The picture shown originally had a full size of 4,000 by 3,000 pixels. However, a complete pancam panorama is even 8 times larger than that, and could be taken in stereo (i.e., two complete pictures, making the resolution twice as large again.) The colors are fairly accurate. (For a technical explanation, see colors outside the range of the human eye.)

The MER pancams are black-and-white instruments. Thirteen rotating filter wheels produce multiple images of the same scene at different wavelengths. Once received on Earth, these images can be combined to produce color images.[26]

Sol 17 (January 21, 2004) flash memory management anomaly

On January 21, 2004 (sol 17), Spirit abruptly ceased communicating with mission control. The next day the rover radioed a 7.8 bit/s beep, confirming that it had received a transmission from Earth but indicating that the craft believed it was in a fault mode. Commands would only be responded to intermittently. This was described as a very serious anomaly, but potentially recoverable if it were a software or memory corruption issue rather than a serious hardware failure. Spirit was commanded to transmit engineering data, and on January 23 sent several short low-bitrate messages before finally transmitting 73 megabits via X band to Mars Odyssey. The readings from the engineering data suggested that the rover was not staying in sleep mode. As such, it was wasting its battery energy and overheating – risk factors that could potentially destroy the rover if not fixed soon. On sol 20, the command team sent it the command SHUTDWN_DMT_TIL ("Shutdown Dammit Until



Rat post grind.jpg
Above: An approximate true-color view of Adirondack, taken by Spirit's pancam.
Right:Digital camera image (from Spirit's Pancam) of Adirondack after a RAT grind (Spirit's rock grinding tool)
Feature type Rock
Coordinates 14°36′S 175°30′E / 14.6°S 175.5°E / -14.6; 175.5Coordinates: 14°36′S 175°30′E / 14.6°S 175.5°E / -14.6; 175.5

Observations of rocks on the plains show they contain the minerals pyroxene, olivine, plagioclase, and magnetite. These rocks can be classified in different ways. The amounts and types of minerals make the rocks primitive basalts—also called picritic basalts. The rocks are similar to ancient terrestrial rocks called basaltic komatiites. Rocks of the plains also resemble the basaltic shergottites, meteorites that came from Mars. One classification system compares the amount of alkali elements to the amount of silica on a graph; in this system, Gusev plains rocks lie near the junction of basalt, picrobasalt, and tephite. The Irvine-Barager classification calls them basalts.[66] Plains rocks have been very slightly altered, probably by thin films of water because they are softer and contain veins of light colored material that may be bromine compounds, as well as coatings or rinds. It is thought that small amounts of water may have gotten into cracks inducing mineralization processes).[66][67] Coatings on the rocks may have occurred when rocks were buried and interacted with thin films of water and dust. One sign that they were altered was that it was easier to grind these rocks compared to the same types of rocks found on Earth.

Columbia Hills

Scientists found a variety of rock types in the Columbia Hills, and they placed them into six different categories. The six are: Clovis, Wishbone, Peace, Watchtower, Backstay, and Independence. They are named after a prominent rock in each group. Their chemical compositions, as measured by APXS, are significantly different from each other.[73] Most importantly, all of the rocks in Columbia Hills show various degrees of alteration due to aqueous fluids.[74] They are enriched in the elements phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, and bromine—all of which can be carried around in water solutions. The Columbia Hills’ rocks contain basaltic glass, along with varying amounts of olivine and sulfates.[75][76] The olivine abundance varies inversely with the amount of sulfates. This is exactly what is expected because water destroys olivine but helps to produce sulfates.

Acid fog is believed to have changed some of the Watchtower rocks. This was in a 200 meter long section of Cumberland Ridge and the Husband Hill summit. Certain places became less crystalline and more amorphous. Acidic water vapor from volcanoes dissolved some minerals forming a gel. When water evaporated a cement formed and produced small bumps. This type of process has been observed in the lab when basalt rocks are exposed to sulfuric and hydrochloric acids.[77][78][79]

The Clovis group is especially interesting because the Mössbauer spectrometer (MB) detected goethite in it.[80] Goethite forms only in the presence of water, so its discovery is the first direct evidence of past water in the Columbia Hills's rocks. In addition, the MB spectra of rocks and outcrops displayed a strong decline in olivine presence,[75] although the rocks probably once contained much olivine.[81] Olivine is a marker for the lack of water because it easily decomposes in the presence of water. Sulfate was found, and it needs water to form. Wishstone contained a great deal of plagioclase, some olivine, and anhydrate (a sulfate). Peace rocks showed sulfur and strong evidence for bound water, so hydrated sulfates are suspected. Watchtower class rocks lack olivine consequently they may have been altered by water. The Independence class showed some signs of clay (perhaps montmorillonite a member of the smectite group). Clays require fairly long term exposure to water to form. One type of soil, called Paso Robles, from the Columbia Hills, may be an evaporate deposit because it contains large amounts of sulfur, phosphorus, calcium, and iron.[74] Also, MB found that much of the iron in Paso Robles soil was of the oxidized, Fe3+ form, which would happen if water had been present.[71]

Towards the middle of the six-year mission (a mission that was supposed to last only 90 days), large amounts of pure silica were found in the soil.[82] The silica could have come from the interaction of soil with acid vapors produced by volcanic activity in the presence of water or from water in a hot spring environment.[83]

After Spirit stopped working scientists studied old data from the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or Mini-TES and confirmed the presence of large amounts of carbonate-rich rocks, which means that regions of the planet may have once harbored water. The carbonates were discovered in an outcrop of rocks called "Comanche."[84][85]

In summary, Spirit found evidence of slight weathering on the plains of Gusev, but no evidence that a lake was there. However, in the Columbia Hills there was clear evidence for a moderate amount of aqueous weathering. The evidence included sulfates and the minerals goethite and carbonates that only form in the presence of water. It is believed that Gusev crater may have held a lake long ago, but it has since been covered by igneous materials. All the dust contains a magnetic component that was identified as magnetite with some titanium. Furthermore, the thin coating of dust that covers everything on Mars is the same in all parts of Mars.


Earth from Mars
Night sky of Mars showing Deimos (left) and Phobos (right) in front of Sagittarius, as seen by Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on August 26, 2005. For full animation see Image:Phobos & Deimos full.gif

Spirit pointed its cameras towards the sky and observed a transit of the Sun by Mars' moon Deimos (see Transit of Deimos from Mars). It also took the first photo of Earth from the surface of another planet in early March 2004.

In late 2005, Spirit took advantage of a favorable energy situation to make multiple nighttime observations of both of Mars' moons Phobos and Deimos.[86] These observations included a "lunar" (or rather phobian) eclipse as Spirit watched Phobos disappear into Mars' shadow. Some of Spirit's star gazing was designed to look for a predicted meteor shower caused by Halley's Comet, and although at least four imaged streaks were suspect meteors, they could not be unambiguously differentiated from those caused by cosmic rays.[86]

A transit of Mercury from Mars took place on January 12, 2005 from about 14:45 UTC to 23:05 UTC. Theoretically, this could have been observed by both Spirit and Opportunity; however, camera resolution did not permit seeing Mercury's 6.1" angular diameter. They were able to observe transits of Deimos across the Sun, but at 2' angular diameter, Deimos is about 20 times larger than Mercury's 6.1" angular diameter. Ephemeris data generated by JPL Horizons indicates that Opportunity would have been able to observe the transit from the start until local sunset at about 19:23 UTC Earth time, while Spirit would have been able to observe it from local sunrise at about 19:38 UTC until the end of the transit.[clarification needed][87]

Equipment wear and failures

Both rovers have passed their original mission time of 90 sols many times over and the extended time on the surface, and therefore additional stress on components, has resulted in some issues developing.

On sol 778 (March 13, 2006), the right front wheel ceased working[88] after having covered 4.2 mi (7 km) on Mars. Engineers began driving the rover backwards, dragging the dead wheel. Although this resulted in changes to driving techniques, the dragging effect became a useful tool, partially clearing away soil on the surface as the rover traveled, thus allowing areas to be imaged that would normally be inaccessible. However, in mid-December 2009, to the surprise of the engineers, the right front wheel showed slight movement in a wheel-test on sol 2113 and clearly rotated with normal resistance on three of four wheel-tests on sol 2117, but stalled on the fourth. On sols 2100–2101 (Nov 29, 2009), the right rear wheel also stalled and remained inoperable for the remainder of the mission.

Scientific instruments also experienced degradation as a result of exposure to the harsh Martian environment and use over a far longer period than had been anticipated by the mission planners. Over time, the diamond in the resin grinding surface of the Rock Abrasion Tool wore down, after that the device could only be used to brush targets.[89] All of the other science instruments and engineering cameras continued to function until contact was lost; however, towards the end of Spirit's life, the MIMOS II Mössbauer spectrometer took much longer to produce results than it did earlier in the mission because of the decay of its cobalt-57 gamma ray source that has a half life of 271 days.


Martian sunset in 2005 by Spirit

To rover

To commemorate Spirit's great contribution to the exploration of Mars, the asteroid 37452 Spirit has been named after it.[90] The name was proposed by Ingrid van Houten-Groeneveld who along with Cornelis Johannes van Houten and Tom Gehrels discovered the asteroid on September 24, 1960.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and the Liberty Science Center also have an IMAX show called Roving Mars that documents the journey of both Spirit and Opportunity, using both CG and actual imagery.

January 4, 2014 was celebrated as the tenth anniversary of its landing on many news sites, despite nearly 4 years since loss of communications.[91]

To honor the rover, the JPL team named an area near Endeavour Crater explored by the Opportunity rover, 'Spirit Point'.[92]

From rover

On 22 January 27, 2004 NASA memorialized the crew of Apollo 1 by naming three hills to the north of "Columbia Memorial Station" as the Apollo 1 Hills. On 28 February 2, 2004 the astronauts on Space Shuttle Columbia's final mission were further memorialized when NASA named a set of hills to the east of the landing site the Columbia Hills Complex, denoting seven peaks in that area as "Anderson", "Brown", "Chawla", "Clark", "Husband", "McCool", and "Ramon"; NASA has submitted these geographical feature names to the IAU for approval.


The rover can take pictures with its different cameras. But only the PanCam camera has the ability to photograph a scene with different color filters. The panorama views are usually built up from PanCam images. Spirit has transferred 128,224 pictures in its lifetime.[93]


Looking back from Bonneville crater to the landing site 
False color image of "Mimi". 


Missoula Crater (Sol 105, April 19, 2004
Lahontan crater on sol 120
Color panorama taken from "Larry's Lookout". On the far left is "Tennessee Valley" and on the right, rover tracks.
Annotated Apollo Hills panorama from the Spirit landing site
Spirit's West Valley panorama (color not rectificated for media). NASA'S Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this westward view from atop a low plateau where Spirit spent the closing months of 2007.

Microscopic images

Close-up of the rock Mazatzal, which was ground with the Rock Abrasion Tool on sol 82 

From orbit

Rover tracks up to sol 85 from Mars Global Surveyor 
Spirit on Sept. 29, 2006 beside Home Plate [94] 


Map of the movement of the Spirit rover up to 2008. 

Spirit's location in context

Tharsis Montes Hellas Planitia Olympus Mons Valles Marineris Arabia Terra Amazonis Planitia Elysium Mons Isidis Planitia Terra Cimmeria Argyre Planitia Alba MonsMap of Mars
Interactive imagemap of the global topography of Mars, overlain with locations of Mars landers and rovers. Hover your mouse to see the names of prominent geographic features, and click to link to them. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations, based on data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. Reds and pinks are higher elevation (+3 km to +8 km); yellow is 0 km; greens and blues are lower elevation (down to −8 km). Whites (>+12 km) and browns (>+8 km) are the highest-most elevations. Axes are latitude and longitude; note poles are not shown.
Spirit (2004) > Spirit
Opportunity (2004) > Opportunity
Pathfinder < Sojourner (1997)
Viking 1 (1976) > Viking 1
Viking 2 (1976) > Viking 2
Phoenix < Phoenix (2008)
Mars 3 < Mars 3 (1971)
Curiosity (2012) > Curiosity
Beagle 2 < Beagle 2 (2003)

See also


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