I want to apologize for some confusion I created when I got confused earlier this week about the current status of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. Although Spirit's outlook remains gloomy and she's still buried in soil at Troy, JPL has not (as I said earlier) ended extrication efforts for the season in order to focus on winter survival. That decision may yet be made, but it hasn't yet; as of last night, rover driver Scott Maxwell told me, "extrication attempts are ongoing, at least for now."
It's been two months, now, that extrication efforts have been going on. It's discouraging that the rover isn't out of the trap. But I think I am actually more confused than I am discouraged. Mars -- and Spirit, ever the drama queen -- keep throwing curveballs at us on Earth. Almost none of the drives have proceeded to completion as commanded. Sometimes they abort for reasons that make perfect sense (like when Spirit was commanded to turn the wheels in place, but had to quit when the soil packed around one wheel proved too resistant to wheel motion). Most of the time, though, weird stuff happens: the right rear wheel up and died. The right front wheel moves -- sometimes. Weird readings indicate transient electrical problems. And so on. My head hurts trying to think about all the different variables they're dealing with.
I put together an animation of the right front hazcam images that ended each day of work, from sol 2078 to sol 2138, and annotated them with information from the JPL website. The very last frame seems to show Spirit rising out of the ground by a pretty significant amount, as measured by how much Husband Hill moves -- but that could just be tilt, purchased at a cost of Spirit's back end sinking, and moreover that tilt is in the wrong direction for winter survival. So it could be good news or it could be bad news.
Spirit, cut the drama already!
NASA / JPL-Caltech / animation by Emily Lakdawalla
Spirit forward hazcam animation, sols 2078-2138
Sixty days of efforts to extricate Spirit from the sand trap at Troy have been, so far, unsuccessful. This animation is composed of 21 right-front hazard avoidance camera images captured from sols 2078 to 2138. The camera has a wide "fish-eye" field of view that can see the workspace in front of the rover, between the two front wheels, all the way to the horizon and Husband Hill in the background.