Bygone Mars Spirit rover looks like dust mound in dramatic spacecraft view – CNET

spiritroveronmars

NASA’s Spirit rover captured this Martian panorama in 2006.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

With NASA’s Perseverance rover at the start of a fresh mission and the Curiosity rover continuing its science work, now’s a good time to look back on the legacy of wheeled explorers on the red planet. In particular, let’s give a tip of the hat to the defunct Spirit rover, which appeared in a recent image snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The MRO HiRise camera looked down in late April and captured a detailed view of the Gusev Crater and Spirit’s final resting place next to a rock formation known as “Home Plate.” The remarkable image makes Spirit look like a dark, dusty mound. 

Citizen scientist Kevin Gill, a software engineer with a talent for processing and sharing space images, shared a close-up of the MRO Spirit image to Twitter on Tuesday. A red circle highlights the rover’s location.

The Spirit rover came to a stop beside a rock outcrop known as “Home Plate.” This HiRise image comes from April 25, 2021.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Kevin Gill

It’s not possible to tell exactly how much dust Spirit has collected from the orbital view, but its condition isn’t surprising considering the rover last touched base with Earth in 2010. NASA declared the mission complete in early 2011. 

Spirit and its arguably more famous twin rover Opportunity arrived on Mars in 2004. Opportunity lasted longer, all the way until a 2018 dust storm covered its solar panels and brought its work to an end.

The dust issue continues to challenge robotic exploration on Mars. NASA’s stationary InSight lander had to dial back its science operations after its solar panels were caked with dust earlier this year.

There are currently three working rovers on Mars: NASA’S Curiosity and Perseverance and China’s Zhurong rover. They follow in the wheel tracks of the pioneering vehicles that came before.  

Spirit is now a collector of dust, a piece of space exploration history that will sit preserved on Mars. The MRO image is a reminder that we can still see these remarkable machines, even many years after they last rolled across the ground. 

Will human explorers visit Spirit some day and wipe the dust from its solar panels? It’s a possibility. 

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.      

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