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US Mars Rover Sends Back Limited Data - 2004-01-23

The U.S. Mars rover has sent back engineering data to Earth for the first time in two days. But mission officials do not expect it return to service anytime soon as they analyze what is causing its erratic communications. After two days of only beeps and garbled data from the Spirit rover, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have received what they call limited data.

The feed lasted 20 minutes in response to a command they had sent to the rover Friday morning asking it to begin transmitting data abouts its condition.

Engineers are scanning it for clues about what is causing Spirit's abnormal behavior.

Project manager Peter Theisinger suspects a hardware problem may be causing the software to communicate poorly. He says the rover's condition is still critical and may never return to normal.

"We should expect we will not be restoring functionality to Spirit for a significant period of time - many days, perhaps a couple of weeks - even under the best of circumstances," he said.

The six-wheeled rover arrived on Mars three weeks ago to search for signs that water once flowed that could have supported life.

An identical U.S. rover is on course for a Sunday landing on the opposite side of Mars.