NASA today announced that the hard-working Mars rover, Spirit, is changing its status from a rover to a stationary science platform. After six years of scooting around the Red Planet, Spirit became stuck in Martian sand about ten months ago. Efforts to free the rover have been mostly unsuccessful.
Spirit will now focus it scientific-data-collecting efforts on watching for small variations in the rotation of the Red Planet, which will help scientists to estimate what is in the planet's core. Spirit will also use its robotic arm to study variations in soil, which shows signs of previously being affected by water.
Spirit's return on investment is high. Originally slated for a 90-day mission, it endured tough Martian conditions for six years. Spirit's counterpart, Opportunity is still operational near the Endeavor crater and has returned more than 133,000 images.
Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo., built the gimbal for the high-gain antennas on the rovers. These gimbals are part of a communications system that allow the rovers to beam images and data back from the Red Planet.