NASA's Spirit rover is being forced to winter in an alternate location because a broken wheel has slowed the Martian vehicle down so much that it can't reach its intended spot before winter hits, according to NASA. The rover needs to spend the planet's dark, cold winter months on a north-facing slope so its solar panels can get enough energy to power it. And with the Martian winter approaching, getting the rover to a safe location has taken precedence over scientific research, principal investigator and Cornell University geologist Steve Squyres said in a statement.
Tracks left by Spirit's wheels may be
turning up proof of water on the planet.
Spirit had been headed for a layered rock outcrop known as Korolev, but the slope proved too steep for the troubled rover, and the vehicle kept slipping. Its Earth-bound operators have now decided to make it turn back and take another, more lateral route to a safe, winter haven.
But not all news from the rover project is bad. Spirit's wheels are turning up light-colored soil that scientists think may be a clue to the past presence of water on Mars. And on the other side of the planet and closer to the equator, Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, is still tooling around swimmingly--nearly nine times longer than anyone expected either rover to last.