Forty-seven months and thousands of incredible images later, one of the Mars rovers may be on its last treads. New Scientist reports:
Spirit is stuck in what appears to be loose soil, but engineers hope to free it quickly so it can reach a safe spot to ride out the approaching winter.
For the past two weeks, Spirit has been heading to the northern end of a 90-metre-wide raised plateau called Home Plate. The region boasts relatively steep, northern-tilting slopes that would maximise the sunlight falling on the rover's solar panels during winter in the planet's southern hemisphere.
Mission scientists had hoped it would arrive on a safe slope by 1 January – a deadline made all the more critical because the rover's power is already depleted due to dust on its solar panels. "There's more dust on Spirit now because of the dust storms a few months ago," says rover team member Ken Herkenhoff of the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, US. "That's making this [journey north] more urgent."
But within the past few days, the rover has become stuck. "Now, winter is getting closer and closer, Spirit has been bogged down in loose soil and we're trying to move out of that area," Herkenhoff told New Scientist.