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StarLab
2005-Jun-05, 10:53 PM
Mars rover gets unstuck

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PASADENA, Calif. - The Mars rover Opportunity resumed rolling freely across the Martian surface Saturday after scientists freed it from a sand dune where it had been mired for nearly five weeks, NASA officials said.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, cheered when images beamed back to Earth showed the rover's wheels were free.

"We've got a working rover on Mars that cost $400 million to build and ... keep working," project manager Jim Erickson said. "I'd like to wear it out rather than lose it."

A photograph taken by Opportunity and posted on the laboratory's Web site showed the long tracks of its wheels crossing a featureless dune.

Opportunity's wheels started slipping April 26 during a planned 295-foot trip. While trying to drive over a foot-high sand dune, the robotic explorer stopped moving, its wheels hub-deep in soft soil.

Engineers spent weeks with an Opportunity mock-up figuring out what commands to give the robot to free it, but the maneuvers took time. The rover inched forward less than a foot in a month, losing most of its traction every time it tried to roll.

"It's kind of like we were swimming through it," Erickson said.

But on Saturday morning, data showed that Opportunity was free at last and had moved several feet across the dune.

Erickson said engineers want to be sure the rover will not encounter any more patches that could trap it again. It will be Monday or Tuesday night before a test drive is ordered, he said.

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, have been exploring opposite sides of Mars since landing in January 2004. Both rovers have long outlasted their primary, three-month missions.

piersdad
2005-Jun-06, 12:20 AM
it would be like being stuck in a traffic jamb for a month
and not being able to steer your way out
they must be very pleased with the freeing of their pet robot

lswinford
2005-Jun-07, 06:00 PM
Having lived in southern Arizona for a few years, I've seen a dune or two. I've also seen a few (mercifully, very few) cars, well usually pickup trucks, that obviously were abandoned in the sand. Usually, other desert travellers have smashed or stripped out valuable or portable parts, leaving the hulks to house spiders and snakes. :(

Wouldn't it be interesting if we had simply left the poor thing where it was and included a crime detective on the early Mars missions to help identify the martians who scavenged our stuff? :unsure: Or maybe, in this case, look back closely for the footprints of whomever towed it out? :D