The Rover Spirit is hibernating on a dark slope on the winter end of the planet Mars. Solar panels may be providing enough energy to keep its clock going. If not, it will become suspended in time and not know to wake up and send a signal that it is ‘alive.’ The panels may or may not keep the battery temperatures above 40 degrees below zero Celsius so that batteries survive the Martian winter, which is said to be almost as bad as the Minnesota winter. But probably not. And for now, the mission controllers are waiting for a beep that could come any time.
The earliest date the rover could generate enough power to send a beep to Earth was calculated to be around July 23. However, mission managers don’t anticipate the batteries will charge adequately until late September to mid-October. It may be even later if the rover is in a mission-clock fault mode. If Spirit does wake up, mission managers will do a complete health check on the rover’s instruments and electronics.
Based on previous Martian winters, the rover team anticipates the increasing haziness in the sky over Spirit will offset longer daylight for the next two months. The amount of solar energy available to Spirit then will increase until the southern Mars summer solstice in March 2011. If we haven’t heard from it by March, it is unlikely that we will ever hear from it.
“This has been a long winter for Spirit, and a long wait for us,” said Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA’s two rovers who is based at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. “Even if we never heard from Spirit again, I think her scientific legacy would be secure. But we’re hopeful we will hear from her, and we’re eager to get back to doing science with two rovers again.”
Beep home, Spirit! Beep home!!!!