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SPACE NASA gets signal from Mars rover

Friday, January 23, 2004

Engineers hope Spirit will send data they can use to diagnose problems.
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- NASA engineers got a 10-minute signal this morning from the Spirit rover and planned further communications with it in an effort to diagnose and possibly patch up their ailing robotic patient on Mars.
NASA heard from the six-wheeled rover about 4:30 a.m., but officials did not immediately elaborate on the signal in a statement released early today. If it contains significant data, the transmission would mark the first such signal in two days -- a period of anxious waiting for scientists.
Engineers hope Spirit will manage to send some engineering data, which can be used to assess the health of the spacecraft, pinpoint any problems and allow NASA to begin working on a potential fix or fixes.
Scientists and spokesmen at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory did not immediately return calls seeking comment today. The statement said today's signal was received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex near Madrid, Spain.
Minimal communication
Since Wednesday, its 19th day on Mars, the Spirit had sent back to Earth only meaningless radio noise or simple beeps acknowledging receipt of commands.
Baffled scientists struggled to pinpoint the trouble.
"It is precisely like trying to diagnose a patient with different symptoms that don't corroborate," said Firouz Naderi, manager of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars exploration program.
Spirit is one-half of an $820 million mission. Its twin, Opportunity, is expected to land on Mars late Saturday. The twin rovers are supposed to examine the Red Planet's dry rocks and soil for evidence that it was once wetter and more hospitable to life.
Until Wednesday, Spirit had functioned almost flawlessly, and NASA scientists and engineers had been jubilant.