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1/26/2010
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Mars Rover Not Dead, Just Stunned

The robot is wedged in the Martian sand, but NASA insists it will continue to function if it can survive the oncoming winter.

It's permanently stuck in the mother of all sand traps, but NASA says its Spirit Mars rover will continue to conduct important, scientific research on the Red Planet.

"Spirit is not dead, it has just entered another phase in its long life," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, in a statement.

Spirit became stuck in the Martian sand early last year. NASA spent several months attempting to get the six-wheeled robot to free itself. On Tuesday, the space agency officially gave up.

"After six years of unprecedented exploration of the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit will no longer be a fully mobile robot," NASA said.

Indeed, Spirit isn't likely to ever move again. And, NASA concedes, it may not survive the planet's less than hospitable climate.

"The venerable robot's primary task in the next few weeks will be to position itself to combat the severe Martian winter," NASA said. "If Spirit survives, it will continue conducting significant new science from its final location," NASA said.

NASA, which controls Spirit through remote control telemetry, needs to get Spirit to at least change the angle of its solar panels so it can continue to generate electricity through the dimly lit winter months.

"At its current angle, Spirit probably would not have enough power to keep communicating with Earth through the Martian winter. Even a few degrees of improvement in tilt might make enough difference to enable communication every few days," according to the space agency.

Spirit first landed on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, continues to explore the Martian surface.

InformationWeek has published a report on how telepresence is turning video communications into a near in-person experience. Download the report here (registration required).

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