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1/27/2010
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Martian Winter Threatens NASA Rover

NASA's six-wheeled robot needs to reposition its solar panels in order to stay alive.

NASA plans to attempt a series of tricky maneuvers to save the Spirit Mars Rover from the Red Planet's oncoming winter.

Spirit is stuck in the sand on Mars' surface, and all of NASA's attempts to free it by remote control have failed to date.

Now, the space agency says the best it can do is redirect the vehicle's solar panels so it can generate enough electricity to make it through the winter and remain in contact with Earth.

"We need to lift the rear of the rover, or the left side, or both," said Ashley Stroupe, a remote Spirit driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, in Pasadena, Calif.

Spirit is currently facing south, but from its current location the winter sun will be mainly in Mars' northern sky.

"Lifting the rear wheels out of their ruts by driving backward and slightly uphill will help. If necessary, we can try to lower the front right of the rover by attempting to drop the right-front wheel into a rut or dig it into a hole," said Stroupe.

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.

Spirit first landed on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004, about six months after it was launched from Earth. Its twin, Opportunity, continues to explore the Martian surface.

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