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Martian dust storm covers Spirit's solar panels in dust

This has proven to be a bad week for NASA rovers patrolling Mars. NASA has several rovers on the surface of Mars performing various missions including looking for water and existence of ice on the red planet.

Yesterday, NASA announced that it had lost communications with the Phoenix lander and had no expectations of the lander surviving the inhospitable Martian winter. Despite the fact that the rover has been declared dead by NASA, the Phoenix mission was a success and lasted longer than originally planned by NASA.

Today, NASA has announced that the Spirit rover is also in jeopardy of failing. Lack of sunlight hitting the solar panels of Spirit is causing serious concern at NASA. According to scientists on the mission, Spirit only produced 89 watt-hours of energy last weekend, which is half the amount of power the rover needs for full performance.

The reason for the drop in power production is a massive dust storm that deposited Martian dust on the solar panels and prevented sunlight form reaching them. Spirit's mission began in 2003 when it was sent to the red planet to search for clues on past water on the surface of the planet.

To help conserve power and prevent Spirit from running its batteries dry, NASA instructed the rover to turn off several heaters designed to keep scientific instruments warm. The rover was also ordered to stop communicating with Earth until Thursday.

NASA says that if it doesn't hear form Spirit on Thursday it will be extremely concerned. Scientists hope Spirit will make it, the dust storms over it position have abated. It's not known if the storm caused damage to any of the rover's instruments at this time or if the rover will be able to move again due to the dust on the panels.



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RE: all this money spent
By JonnyDough on 11/12/2008 2:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
That might also be why we're not using it now. It's probably cheaper to use an alternative than to send that up with all the shielding and safety features needed.


RE: all this money spent
By Ringold on 11/12/2008 4:51:33 PM , Rating: 2
I think the only shielding necessary was a decent case. On the other hand, the craft gets uninterrupted and decent quantities of power.

NASA did try to use RTG's, but when thousands of protestors started showing up for launches, combined with Carter-era rabid anti-nuclear activism, they just gave up. Masher didn't mention it, but to my understanding even in cases where NASA still does try to use RTG's they have a hell of a time for a reason I don't know trying to get the amount of plutonium they need from the government.


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