Mars Rovers get 5 month extension

This week, the Spirit rover surpassed not only its primary 90-day Mars mission, but has driven farther and visited more locations than mission planners had planned to see in its Gusev Crater landing site. Meanwhile, Opportunity is closing in on Spirit's mission success and set a new drive-distance record Monday, roving 328 feet (100 meters) in a single jaunt.

NASA has cleared the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity for an extended mission that stretches well into September now that one of the hardy robots has completed its primary goals.

Both rovers are currently going through a four-day software upload that will enhance their autonomous driving abilities, help conserve energy and allow some on-site computer problem-solving should Spirit suffer a similar glitch to one that stalled it for more than two weeks earlier in its mission, reports

According to NASA's wildly popular mission on Mars was extended by five months Thursday as the space agency committed an additional $15 million to keep two robotic geologists rolling as long as possible.

The rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet in January and have wowed scientists and space fans with detailed panoramic images and the compelling evidence that Mars once had a pond or even a salty sea.

The water evidence is key to determining whether Mars once was warm and wet enough to support some sort of life, though that question won't be answered definitively until a later mission returns to Earth with samples.

With the rovers operating well, NASA wants to get as much information as possible. Extending their $820 million missions could mean that the rovers' exploration of the planet could be doubled for less than a 2 percent additional investment.

Spirit, which was the first to land on Mars, on Jan. 3, has completed its initial mission at Gusev Crater, believed to be the site of an ancient crater lake. Opportunity, which landed at Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, will complete its initial checklist later this month.

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