Spirit is one of the two robotic rovers that were sent to Mars for NASA's ambitious Mars Exploration Rover mission in 2003. The rover landed on the dusty surface of Mars on January 4, 2004, seven months after it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a Delta II 7925 rocket. The final descent saw the rover slam onto the surface and came to rest after bouncing on its airbag about 28 times. It landed nearly 13 km away from the intended site, however, it was a successful descent.
The mission was running smoothly, however, it all changed on January 21, 2004, when Spirit suddenly stopped sending data from Mars' surface. Although temporary, the mission control had lost contact with Spirit as it began to perpetually reboot over some software error. Soon, the rover was stabilized and it went on to pursue its mission, studying the history of climate and water at various sites on the planet. It also found evidence suggesting that the Red Planet was much wetter once than it is now.
Later on, Spirit experienced some mechanical and Martian challenges. While the rover was able to recover, it again started to face rebooting trouble in 2009. The issue only got worse when it ran into the problem of sinking sand. The same year in April, the Spirit ran through a crust into the sand and got stuck there. The rover has been stuck at the location as the agency continued to send various commands. NASA was still able to gather new data from the stranded Spirit; however, on December 31, 2009, it was revealed that the rover may no longer have the required power to last the winter.
NASA was able to have a final communication with the Spirit the following year on March 22, 2010, and the rover has since remained silent. In total, the rover was able to communicate for about 6 years, 2 months, and 19 days. However, it had far surpassed its expected lifetime. NASA had sent more than one thousand commands to the Spirit to elicit a response.
Image credits: NASA