Because of two minor "hiccups," NASA's Spirit rover won't leave its landing platform until next Wednesday at the earliest, officials at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
The problems involved the rover's high-gain antenna, which provides a high-speed data link directly with Earth, and the collapsed air bag that had cushioned the craft's landing in Gusev Crater on Saturday.
Neither problem was expected to seriously affect the overall mission, the officials said at a news conference Wednesday.
Researchers could not hide their eagerness to begin using the rover's suite of scientific instruments to sample rocks and soil at the landing site, thought to be an ancient lake bed.
"We are champing at the bit to get this puppy off the lander and get driving," said Art Thompson, a JPL robotics engineer.
The first problem apparently has resolved itself. When the team first started moving the lollipop-shaped high-gain antenna to orient it toward Earth, engineers noticed short spikes in the electrical current it was drawing, suggesting the motors were encountering difficulty.
But when they went back and tried to move the antenna again, it moved smoothly, said Arthur Amador, mission manager for the fifth Martian day. "There must have been some debris in the motor housing or stickiness that was taken care of" in the last maneuvering, he said. On Tuesday, "everything came back pretty much perfect," he said.
The second problem involves one of the crumpled air bags, which is sticking out slightly from under one of the ramps that engineers hope to use to drive Spirit off the lander. The bag prevented the ramp from reaching all the way to the ground.
The team tried retracting the air bag a little, but that did not work. So on Wednesday they were planning to try what Thompson called a "lift-and-tuck" maneuver in which the lander petal attached to the ramp will be lifted out of the way while the bag is retracted.
If that does not work, the rover can be driven off the lander in two other directions. In either of those cases, however, the craft would have to perform a delicate pirouette to orient itself in the direction in which the geologists want to proceed.
Spirit sent one more major picture back to Earth overnight Tuesday, a high-resolution, three-dimensional, black-and-white image showing the same area depicted in the color photograph released Tuesday.
"We're getting slow glimpses of the world around us," said Cornell University's James Bell, who developed the camera. The images "will be used to determine how to drive the rover through this terrain," he said.