U.S. Mars explorer begins attempt to escape sand trap on red planet

15:51, November 20, 2009      

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NASA's stuck Mars rover on Thursday successfully completed the first step of a two-part attempt to extract the explorer from a sand trap on the red planet.

NASA announced that after spinning its wheels forward, the rover Spirit advanced slightly.

However, NASA said the movement was too slight to establish any immediate trends for hopes of freeing the stalled rover, which landed on Mars in 2004 with its twin Opportunity and has far surpassed its expected three months of usefulness.

Spirit was moving backward in April when its wheels broke through Mars' soft surface and became stuck in a patch of talcum-like dirt. The rover tried to maneuver its way out of the sand trap but its wheels sunk deeper.

The plan calls for Spirit to drive forward and retrace its steps in an effort to free itself.

Spirit landed on Mars with six working wheels but soon lost movement in its right front wheel. The rover since has been exploring the planet dragging its broken wheel along.

Attempts to free the rover will continue until at least February. If Spirit is not free by then, NASA may decide whether it's worth it to keep trying, said Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters.

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