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Spirit Endures Record Cold On Mars

Spirit is almost done assembling the 360-degree McMurdo panorama. Its camera added this sectio showing two suspected iron meteorites on sol 872. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
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  • by Staff Writers
    Pasadena CA (SPX) Jul 31, 2006
    Spirit remains healthy and continues to make progress on computer upgrades and scientific research, despite winter temperatures colder than any yet experienced during the rover's two and a half years on Mars.

    Models show that at the coldest part of the Martian night, around 5:00 a.m. Mars time, temperatures near the surface dipped to approximately minus 97 degrees Celsius (minus 143 degrees Fahrenheit).

    With the deepest part of the Martian winter just around the corner, Spirit is collecting about 284 watt-hours of electrical power each sol from the rover's solar array (a hundred watt-hours is the amount of electricity needed to light one 100-watt bulb for one hour).

    The shortest day, winter solstice in the Martian southern hemisphere, will arrive Aug. 8. The lowest amount of solar energy the rover is expected to receive is about 275 watt-hours per sol.

    Spirit has put the finishing touches on a new version of its flight software - assembling, checking, and saving 200 sections of computer code transmitted from Earth in recent weeks.

    The software upgrade will give the rover enhanced autonomous operational capabilities. NASA plans for Spirit to switch from its current flight software to the new version in coming weeks.

    Meanwhile, Spirit is only one frame away from completing the long-anticipated McMurdo panorama, a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter haven amid the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater on Mars.

    The collection of images from the panoramic camera, as with all scientific data, has taken extra time to complete with the sun lower on the horizon and solar power levels on the wane.

    During the week, Spirit also used the microscopic imager to get a closer look at a small ripple nicknamed Palmer.

    For the next several weeks until Labor Day, Spirit will communicate with Earth only using UHF-band relay via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

    The X-band Spirit uses for communicating directly with Earth will not be available while that frequency is used intensively by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in the final stages of trimming its orbit around Mars.

    Sol-by-sol summary:

    Sol 908 (July 23): Spirit took microscopic images of Palmer.

    Sol 909: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and used its miniature thermal emission spectrometer to study a rock target known as Korolev2.

    Sol 910: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and cleaned and calibrated the rock abrasion tool.

    Sol 911: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama and gathered remote-sensing information about a target known as Druzhnaya.

    Sol 912: Spirit continued work on the McMurdo panorama.

    Sol 913: Spirit took microscopic images of a target known as Palmer2"

    Sol 914 (July 29): Spirit continued to work on the McMurdo panorama.


    As of sol 911 (July 26), Spirit's total odometry remained at 6,876.18 meters (4.27 miles).

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    Mars Rover Team Weary But Hanging In After 900 Sols
    Washington DC (SPX) Jul 25, 2006
    In terms of "going and going and going," the Energizer Bunny has nothing on NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers. Originally designed to operate in the harsh environment of the red planet for 90 sols, or Martian days, Spirit recently passed its 900th sol, and Opportunity will reach that mark within two weeks.

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