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Orbital imagery of the Martian surface traces the Spirit rover's path to the Columbia Hills as an orange line. Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, began their treks in January on opposite sides of the planet and could conceivably keep going for more than a year.
updated 9/22/2004 1:03:18 PM ET 2004-09-22T17:03:18

NASA thinks its Mars rovers just might keep going and going and going.

The space agency has funded another extension of their mission, for an additional six months, if they last.

The latest funding came as NASA regained reliable contact with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity after a 12-day period in which Mars passed nearly behind the sun, Jet Propulsion Laboratory said

The rovers, which have found evidence of past water activity on the Red Planet, landed on opposite sides of Mars in January and completed their primary, three-month missions on the surface in April.

The rovers have since completed about five months of their first extension.

"Spirit and Opportunity appear ready to continue their remarkable adventures," Andrew Dantzler, solar system division director at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a written statement.

The rovers did no driving during the period in which the sun was between Earth and Mars. Commanding of activities resumed for Opportunity on Monday and for Spirit on Tuesday.

Project manager Jim Erickson at JPL said it was a relief to get through the past two weeks: Not only were communications disrupted, but it was also the worst part of winter in Mars' southern hemisphere, in terms of the sunlight available to the solar-powered rovers. The solar energy situation should improve in January.

"Although Spirit and Opportunity are well past warranty, they are showing few signs of wearing out," Erickson said in a statement. "We really don't know how long they will keep working, whether days or months. We will do our best to continue getting the maximum possible benefit from these great national resources."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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