Rovers in overtime

Two field geologists working on the Red Planet just got a 5-month extension on their contract. On April 8, NASA announced it was going to extend through September the life of its twin Mars rovers, which were designed to operate for 90 Mars days, which are 40 minutes longer than Earth days.

KEEP ON TRACKIN’ Image of Meridiani Planum, showing Opportunity’s tracks. JPL, NASA, Cornell

Spirit, which landed in the planet’s Gusev crater on Jan. 3, exceeded the 90-day benchmark on April 5. Opportunity, which arrived 3 weeks later on the other side of the planet in a plain called Meridiani Planum, went beyond its 90-day primary mission on April 26. Both rovers have found evidence of liquid water in Mars’ past (SN: 3/27/04, p. 195: Available to subscribers at Signs of Water Flow: Oceans of data point to ancient Martian sea).

“Even though the extended mission is approved to September and the rovers could last even longer, they might also stop in their tracks next week or next month,” cautions Firouz Naderi, who is mission manager for the rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The cost of the mission extension is $15 million.

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