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Mars rover loses use of wheel

One of the wheels on the Mars rover Spirit has stopped working.

One of the wheels on the Mars rover Spirit has stopped working, according to NASA's Web site. The right-front wheel had been in trouble before, in June of 2004, when it began drawing abnormally high current. That problem was fixed by temporarily running the rover backward, but now the wheel has stopped working entirely, according to the space agency. The rover is able to use its five other wheels and drag the broken one along, but with the Martian winter approaching, NASA workers are in a race against time to get Spirit to a location where it will be able to get enough solar power to continue operating.

Loss of the vehicle would be a disappointment, but the two rovers have already exceeded their expected 90-day longevity by almost nine times and continue to collect information as they explore the Martian surface.

In the same announcement, NASA said the rover program is getting a new manager. John Callas, currently a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will take over as project manager of the Mars Exploration Rover missions. As the rovers continue to age--and especially with the latest snafu--Callas has his work cut out for him. But, "it continues to be an exciting adventure with each day like a whole new mission," he said in a statement. "Even though the rovers are well past their original design life, they still have plenty of capability to conduct outstanding science on Mars."