NASA‘s robotic Mars geologist, Spirit, hasn’t been very talkative recently, according to CNN, Slashdot, and others. The rover has missed several communications windows to Earth and the satellites, and this morning, only a warning tone was detected, indicating “a very serious anomaly on the vehicle,” according to Spirit manager Pete Theisinger.
Attempts to resurrect the lander will be difficult, since the scientists don’t know what’s wrong and need the missing telemetry to figure it out. Catch-22. Compounding the incredible stress that the JPL team must be facing is that Spirit’s sibling, Opportunity, is scheduled to crash-land on the other side of Mars on January 24th.
I would imagine that the warning tone must be very encouraging – it probably means that not only is Spirit hearing Earth, it’s also understanding it, at least to some extent. Some kind of processing has to be going on to separate background noise from a real signal.
I wish the NASA team the best of luck. Even if they don’t save Spirit, its accomplishments in the past 18 days have been simply incredible. I hope one day a documentary gets released in theaters. I guarantee that I’ll see it. (Not in IMAX, though – our main theater closed shop.)
P.S. The Mars Scorecard hasn’t been updated as of this entry. They’ll probably count Spirit as a win, anyway. I’d tend to agree.