One of Nasa’s robot rovers on Mars has broken a wheel and will struggle to survive winter on the planet.
Spirit’s right front wheel was already wonky but now a motor driving it has failed completely, the space agency said yesterday (Mon).
The buggy’s drivers back in California are now trying to steer it using its five working wheels to a slope where it can catch enough sunlight to keep operating.
Spirit gets only enough power to drive for about one hour a day on flat ground. It is now moving, dragging its dead wheel, at a rate of 40ft a day towards a north-facing side of McCool Hill.
The faulty wheel first caused concern when it began drawing unusually high current five months after Spirit landed in Gusev Crater in January 2004.
Driving the rover backwards redistributed lubricant and got the wheel working normally again.
Spirit’s companion rover, Opportunity, is still trundling about at Meridiani Planum on the other side of Mars despite nursing a broken arm.
Engineers found a way to repair that faulty shoulder joint in December to keep Opportunity carrying out valuable operations studying rocks on Mars.
Winter will not bother Opportunity as it is in a warmer zone closer to the Martian equator than Spirit.
The two rovers are a remarkable success for Nasa as they are both still working more than two years into a mission that was only expected to last 90 days.
Project manager John Callas, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, said: “Even though the rovers are well past their original design life, they still have plenty of capability to conduct outstanding science on Mars.”
Spirit was at the centre of another scare just two weeks after it landed when it suddenly started barking back meaningless data. Nasa found its “memory card” had become full and managed to clear it.
© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.