NASA abandons Mars rover Spirit, chooses to remember the good times

More than a year after it first lost contact with its Mars rover Spirit, NASA has finally decided to throw in the towel. Yesterday, the agency confirmed that it will end all planned communications with the robot on May 25th, effectively ending the craft's seven-year mission. NASA was hoping that the approaching Martian spring would allow the Spirit to recharge its solar panels and re-establish radio contact, but it now appears that the craft sustained irreparable damage last winter, when it was forced to endure brutally cold temperatures. NASA executive David Lavery, however, says the rover team will remember the Spirit more for its achievements than its slow demise:

"I think we'll all sit around and have a sip of Guinness and reminisce about when Spirit was a wee small little rover and look back at the accomplishments and successes rover had over its entire lifetime."

So the Spirit's spirit will live on, but what about NASA's mission to Mars? Well, the Opportunity is still in good health and, later this year, will be joined by the next-generation, nuclear-powered rover Curiosity, which will investigate whether or not Mars ever supported life forms. Meanwhile, NASA's network of orbiting spacecraft will continue to passively listen for signals from the Spirit, just in case it miraculously comes back to life. Full PR after the break.

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NASA Concludes Attempts To Contact Mars Rover Spirit

WASHINGTON -- NASA is ending attempts to regain contact with the long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, which last communicated on March 22, 2010.

A transmission that will end on Wednesday, May 25, will be the last in a series of attempts. Extensive communications activities during the past 10 months also have explored the possibility that Spirit might reawaken as the solar energy available to it increased after a stressful Martian winter without much sunlight. With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold.

Engineers' assessments in recent months have shown a very low probability for recovering communications with Spirit. Communications assets that have been used by the Spirit mission in the past, including NASA's Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth, plus two NASA Mars orbiters that can relay communications, now are needed to prepare for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. MSL is scheduled to launch later this year.

"We're now transitioning assets to support the November launch of our next generation Mars rover, Curiosity," said Dave Lavery, program executive for solar system exploration. "However, while we no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit, the Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits."

Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, for a mission designed to last three months. After accomplishing its prime-mission goals, Spirit worked to accomplish additional objectives. Its twin, Opportunity, continues active exploration of Mars.