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NASA rover resurrected twice over Easter weekend

Mars explorer 'Spirit', of course

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In what could be an attempt to trump Jesus of Nazareth's record for divine Easter resurrections, NASA has said its Mars Exploration Rover Spirit mysteriously rebooted twice during the holiday weekend.

"While we don't have an explanation yet, we do know that Spirit's batteries are charged, the solar arrays are producing energy and temperatures are well within allowable ranges," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement.

"The rover is in a stable operation state called automode and taking care of itself. It could stay in this stable mode for some time if necessary while we diagnose the problem."

May we suggest three days will do the trick?

The (perhaps now-Holy) Spirit was able to communicate with controllers Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but some of the communication sessions were "irregular," NASA reported. One of the computer resets occurred while the rover was using its pointable high-gain dish antenna, but the scientists are sure its the problem.

Fortunately, the long-in-tooth rover also sports an immovable low-gain antenna that communicates back to Earth at a slower data rate. It also can relay messages off Mars orbiters using a separate ultra-high frequency (UHF) transceiver system.

"To avoid potential problems using the pointable antenna, we might consider for the time being just communicating by UHF relay or using the low-gan antenna," Callas stated.

Spirit's onboard software has been updated several times during its three-month mission - which actually ended five years ago - as well as its extended scientific puttering about the Martian landscape since then. Boffins also suspect the problem could be with Spirits new software, but the same software is operating on Spirit's twin-rover Opportunity without problems.

Diagnosis: miracle. Or maybe something boring like old age.

"We are aware of the reality that we have an aging rover, and there may be age-related effects here," Callas said. ®

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