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Japanese Mars Probe Failing 242

Posted by michael
from the warranty-expired dept.
Anonymous Coward writes "After months of silence and a week of hopeful half-truths, Japanese space officials have finally confirmed that their Mars-bound Nozomi probe is teetering on the brink of failure in its five-year quest to explore the Red Planet. The Nozomi orbiter is one of four spacecraft that are due to converge on Mars in the next two months. The other three probes -- the European Space Agency's Mars Express and NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers -- are still on track and in good working order, according to the latest status reports. Mars Express is due to enter Martian orbit on Christmas Day and send a British-built Beagle 2 lander to the surface, while the NASA rovers should arrive on Jan. 3 and Jan. 24."
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Japanese Mars Probe Failing

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  • by zr-rifle (677585) <zedr.zedr@com> on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:18PM (#7533073) Homepage
    ...will it commit harakiri?
    • Jokes about a probe to uranus in 5... 4... 3...
    • Interesting (Score:5, Funny)

      by nocomment (239368) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:21PM (#7533491) Homepage Journal
      I guess I'll just stick with their VCR's and TV's.

    • by G-Man (79561) on Friday November 21, 2003 @09:34PM (#7533826)
      Perish the thought! This is an interplanetary probe, carrying the honor and dignity of the Japanese nation. It will commit seppuku [kyushu.com], as befitting a spacecraft of its' station. It would never commit hari kiri like some common communications satellite.

      Of course, I'm not sure who will be the "second". Perhaps one of the other satellites or the Martians can finish the thing off...

      • by BJH (11355)
        Not to ruin the joke, but harakiri and seppuku are exactly the same thing, just different terms for it - one colloquial and one formal.

        Not to mention that page you linked to gets it entirely wrong calling the blade used a kozuka - that's a small knife a few inches long. Good luck cutting yourself open with something like that. The blade actually used is a wakizashi.
        • It gets more complicated than that.

          Seppuku is honorable suicide. The rituals are different for men and women. Men commit seppuku by hara-kiri ("belly cutting") with a wakizashi. Women commit seppuku by cutting their throats with a kozuka. (I don't know if there's a separate term for this act.) Hara-kiri is a fairly crude term, kind of like "kicking the bucket" in English, so if you want to be respectful to a man who's killing himself, you talk about him committing seppuku rather than hara-kiri.
  • by Typingsux (65623) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:18PM (#7533077)
    The Martians are now wise to us and will just shoot the rest down. That's what has happened to all the others.

  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:20PM (#7533085) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    Friday's JAXA statement denied one Tokyo press report that probe was doomed to impact Mars and possibly contaminate the planet. Such a scenario would violate an international "space quarantine" treaty.

    I know we've had a lot of cool reports that microbes have survived exposure to hard vacuum for extended periods, but do we really have to worry about "contaminating" Mars? The craft was probably sterilized pretty well before being launched. Then, a year and a half ago, it got hit with a solar flare strong enough to make it miss Mars the first time... that should have baked any hitchiking bugs pretty well. And then, there's the latest round of Solar hiccups to take into account.

    Finally, if the craft does hit Mars, it's going to do it in a totally uncontrolled manner -- 'cause if they get any control, they'll steer it away. That implies a high velocity, which even in the thin Martian atmosphere should melt the craft into slag.

    Extremophile bacteria at molten sulfur vents is one thing, but hitchiking in a blob of ablating steel?

    And as far as that "space quarantine" treaty... what exactly is the punishment for sneezing in space?
    • by kippy (416183) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:32PM (#7533174)
      Yeah, I raised my eyebrow when I read that too. What I thought was funny was how they mentioned Mars Express is due to enter Martian orbit on Christmas Day and send a British-built Beagle 2 lander to the surface, while the NASA rovers should arrive on Jan. 3 and Jan. 24

      So they are worried about a man made meteor seeding the planet but sending rovers to the surface is somehow alright???

      hey, if we do "contaminate" the surface, that will save genetic engineers a lot of trouble if we ever try to terraform. "space quarantine treaty", now there's a treaty we've got to get rid of.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:37PM (#7533216)
        >>So they are worried about a man made meteor >>seeding the planet but sending rovers to the >>surface is somehow alright???

        By Jove i think you've got it! Not.

        The japanese probe was never intended to touch down so was never decontaminated.

        The laders were intended to reach the surface, and so were decontaminated appropriately.
        • The japanese probe was never intended to touch down so was never decontaminated. The landers were intended to reach the surface, and so were decontaminated appropriately.

          Folks, pile some mod points on the anonymous coward parent posting (quoted above). This is exactly the point.

      • I think the "contamination" they don't want is typically referred to (terrestrially) as "litter." I understand that (thanks quite a bit to the Russian program, but also to "just leave it here" Americans) the moon is quite littered with a bunch of junk that either didn't work or doesn't any more. Biocontaminant or not, trying to do geologic science and having to move aside slagged lander parts that drilled into Tharsis to do it would be a little annoying...
      • hey, if we do "contaminate" the surface, that will save genetic engineers a lot of trouble if we ever try to terraform

        Right, why not get it over with? There's plenty of planets to try and discover life on (though most will take hundreds of years to get to). What's more important is we (humans) need another place to call home just in case we get nailed with some global catastrophy. But I suppose we'll have to battle with the dilemma of truth vs. survival for some time longer.
    • Extremophile bacteria at molten sulfur vents is one thing, but hitchiking in a blob of ablating steel?

      I don't know, these guys [slashdot.org] seemed to do okay... and they're probably a lot more delicate than some bacteria.
    • by Spamalamadingdong (323207) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:33PM (#7533184) Homepage Journal
      I don't suppose you've heard of common earth organisms like Deinococcus Radiourans? This bug has such potent DNA-repair mechanisms that it survives very heavy irradiation (it apparently evolved them to recover from DNA damage during long periods of dryness, but they work for radiation-induced breakages too). And substantial parts of a spacecraft survive even an uncontrolled atmospheric entry; look at how much of Columbia came down, including large pieces of astronauts.

      If someone sterilized the bird with something like chlorine monoxide it's a different matter, but I've seen nothing about this and an orbiter wouldn't normally need to be sterilized like a lander. That's why Galileo met its fiery end.

      • And substantial parts of a spacecraft survive even an uncontrolled atmospheric entry; look at how much of Columbia came down, including large pieces of astronauts.

        Columbia was a controlled reentry; it suffered a heat-shield failure, not a tradgectory failure.
    • by snake_dad (311844) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:41PM (#7533240) Homepage Journal
      Bacteria survived being on the moon for years. Parts from (IIRC) a Surveyor probe were brought back by an Apollo mission. Granted, these bacteria were found inside an instrument, but since the Japanese probe may shatter on impact there is a contamination risk, I think.

      About the reentry, I'm not sure it will burn up completely. Meteorites crashing on Earth are said to be warm, not scalding hot. Could some rocket scientist jump in and give his view on the reentry? Metal vs stone, Earth vs Mars atmosphere? (Hmm.. re-entry sounds wrong. It's going to enter the Mars atmosphere for the first time)

      • About the reentry, I'm not sure it will burn up completely. Meteorites crashing on Earth are said to be warm, not scalding hot.

        Hmmm... you actually triggered a memory that would have made me write a rather different posting. A quick Google found this page [jas.org.jo] dealing with a meteorite that was seen over Jordan. What appeared to be an area where a meteor fell out of the sky and scorched the land turned out to be the remnants of an unrelated brushfire.

        And it's pointed out several times that the hot bits get p
      • Metallic meteorites have a much better chance of surviving a trip to the Earth's surface than stony meteorites, so increased density means increased survival. Also, small surface area to volume ratios help (a spherical object will survive better than a plate).

        At first glance, satellites, being somewhat rounded and made mostly of metal, seem to fit the bill. However, they have voids in them which lower their overall density. Furthermore, if the outer layer of the satellite is breached, then the interior

        • I'm so full of shit. My remarks about surface area are ok. And it's true that metallic meteorites explode less often than stony meteorites, but not because of density. It may have more to do with the excellent heat conduction and the strength of metal, heat of vaporization, etc.. Here's an excellent page on meteor falls [meteorlab.com].
      • Don't forget in this case there is no real atmosphere to slow it down. The escape velocity for Mars is a bit over 5,000 metres per second. So it should impact at about that speed. I'm not saying bacteria wouldn't survive ... but the impact is bound to cause a lot of frictional heating of the debris, and bugs like radiodurans or even extremophiles may not be able to handle it. Anyway, there's not a lot that can be done from here anyway.

    • do we really have to worry about "contaminating" Mars?

      Nature sure doesn't worry, and man is definitely a product of nature. Life spreads by 'contamination', that's what makes it life! Heck, how do we know that all life on earth didn't start by a passing visitor from Alphi Centauri landing, taking a whizz on some rock, declare the place uninhabitable and take off? Those who would stop exploration by complaining about 'human contamination' should get off their high moral horse, put aside their cosmic guilt
    • Yes and No (Score:3, Informative)

      by rarose (36450)
      1. Orbiters are generally not sanitized to the level that landers are, so there is a higher chance of viable organisms on the Jap probe.

      2. I don't know about Japanese orbital policy, but NASA policy requires that probes be launched on an orbit that will cause it to slightly miss it's target.... then when it's almost at the planet the orbital bias is removed so that orbital insertion takes place. So if this were a NASA mission there wouldn't be contaimination if the probe died... it'd just happily whizz on
  • Hard lines (Score:3, Funny)

    by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:21PM (#7533088) Journal

    The chances of anything getting to Mars,
    Are a million to one
    In this case, it spun.
    ... right out of control. Isn't this the one that came to close to a comet ? They thought it would be ok, but I guess not :-(

    Pity - the more craft we send there, the more we'll all learn.

    Simon.
  • I see (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:21PM (#7533090) Homepage Journal
    So hopefully the British rover will have tea ready for us when we get there. Jolly good.
    • Re:I see (Score:5, Funny)

      by D-Cypell (446534) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:06PM (#7533402)
      Sure, laugh at us!

      Do you have any idea how much of the great british public's tax money went on the research required to get water boil correctly in those kind of inhospitable conditions...

      Not to mention the whole earl grey vs english breakfast fiasco!
      • Not to mention the reasearch into curing the Willow for our cricket bats to survive the martian atmosphere.

        These people have no idea.............
  • if its (Score:2, Funny)

    if its martians shooting them down... martians suck! these things take 5 years to get there! the hit like one out of 10 things we send! who can't aim well enough to hit something when you have 5 years to try?
    • Tactic #2321: Do not reveal your best weapons to the enemy until the time comes.

      Tactic #923874: Make the enemy think you suck.

      I'm sure the Martians are using some primitive weapon to shoot them down. This is done in order to confuse the humans and make them think the Martians suck... YOU, my dear human, have fallen for their tricks ;)

      Sivaram Velauthapillai
  • by t0ny (590331) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:24PM (#7533118)
    Everything we send to Mars disappears. Im starting to get scared...
  • Contamination? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Meat Blaster (578650) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:24PM (#7533119)
    I'm starting to wonder if we should be sending all these probes out without any chance of recovery or destruction. While it's probable there isn't any other sentient life out there, it's also probable that our efforts to explore our surroundings are affecting or destroying living and non-living celestial evidence.

    I keep thinking about those fish that live in caves that we believed were blind from birth, but were actually blinded by our observations, which required orders of magnitude of light more than they were ever accustomed to. Who knows how much Earth biology survives in these probes when they crash land?

    Maybe we should put a halt to sending out any more of these things for now and work more on passive observation techniques.

    • Some of first manned missions to Mars will pick them and put them in "Museum of Conquest of Mars".
    • Is that fish story true? That sounds like a liberal college teacher's example of why exploration and advancement are inherantly negative. Do you have a link for the story?
    • Re:Contamination? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by s20451 (410424)
      I'm starting to wonder if we should be sending all these probes out without any chance of recovery or destruction. While it's probable there isn't any other sentient life out there, it's also probable that our efforts to explore our surroundings are affecting or destroying living and non-living celestial evidence.

      Even if there is contamination from Earth, it should be easily identifiable, because it would consist of microbes that humans encounter on a daily basis. And it's highly likely that life from an
  • Probe Redundancy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MonkeyCookie (657433) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:31PM (#7533168)
    At least there's quite a bit of redundancy with the martian probes. With four going there at once it's quite likely that at least one of them will get there.

    The martian probe success rate is so bad that maybe space agencies should launch multiple smaller ones with the expectancy that some will fail to reach their destination than put all their hopes on one larger probe.
  • When? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    When will we stop sending probes and start sending missiles?!!
    • Re:When? (Score:2, Funny)

      The probe was Japanese, not American. If it was American, you can bet that a War on Space Terrorism would be declared and missiles would soon follow...
    • We should give them a few weeks to prove they have no weapons of mass destruction. If they fail to give us the proof I say we let the missiles fly.
  • by mikerich (120257) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:37PM (#7533218)
    Mars Express [esa.int] has to perform one VERY important maneuvre. On December 19th it must eject the Beagle 2 [open.ac.uk] lander whilst still travelling at interplanetary velocity.

    If Mars Express fails to shoot Beagle 2 into space, the retro-engine will not have enough thrust to brake Mars Express into Martian orbit. Both probes would then fly past the planet and into solar orbit.

    Beagle 2 then travels through space for six days before hitting the Martian atmosphere at interplanetary velocity. Beagle 2's onboard transmitter will not come to life until the probe impacts the surface, so you can imagine that those six days will be pretty tense for the ESA teams.

    All being well, Beagle 2 and Mars Express should arrive at their destinations safe and well in the small hours of Christmas morning. By the time we're opening our presents here in the UK, they should have received a signal from the Martian surface.

    So, here's hoping!

    Best wishes,
    Mike.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    it's not like this is brain surgery!
    [off to the brain surgery forum... "c'mon guys...it's not like this is rocket science!"]
  • Wow...and here I was thinking a Lexus or a Honda was a well put together reliable car. But NO, they can't even make a probe that lasts longer than several hundred lightyears. What kinda mileage is that?!

    • HOnda's suck!

      Well at least they do when they hit over 130k miles. I know from experience.

    • If there was a road to Mars, the Japs would have got there first.
    • Re:Reliability (Score:2, Informative)

      by pinkboi (533214)
      Do realize that this probe already went around Mars and back to Earth. It's pretty amazing that the thing has been functioning all this time.
    • Re:Reliability (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SharpFang (651121)
      probe that lasts longer than several hundred lightyears.

      I'm not sure if you're trolling here or you're just misguided...

      1) Light year is an unit of distance, not time, so no "last longer than" but "go further than".
      2) It's helluva much too - distance it takes one year for light to travel. There's 3 light seconds from Earth to Moon, 7 light minutes to the Sun, about one light hour to Neptune, four light years to Proxima Centauri, nearest star. Mars is at worst several light minutes away from Earth - when
      • Just to be a pain... (sorry, my geek tendencies won't let it slide)

        The earth/moon are less than 2 light seconds apart (about a quarter million miles, light being 186,000 mi/sec)

        The sun is (on average) 9 minutes

        Jupiter is about an hour, neptune around 2 or 2.5 hours out

        Good point about the micrometeorites... man, that's gonna mess up the paint...
      • I'm not trolling, I was making a joke. Since I know absolutely nothing about light years or any of that stuff, I just made it up. I expected someone to correct me soon after posting.

    • Wow...and here I was thinking a Lexus or a Honda was a well put together reliable car. But NO, they can't even make a probe that lasts longer than several hundred lightyears. What kinda mileage is that?!

      That's why it's called "rocket science". Because this is not easy.

  • I wonder if the solar flares could of damaged any of the electronics.

  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:44PM (#7533262) Homepage
    I'm starting to get the impression that there is some sort of major hazard somewhere on the way to Mars. It seems that quite a few probes have been getting so beat up as to be partly or completely inoperable on arrival to Martian orbit.

    Does anyone have any hard data on the statistics of spacecraft survival for all known Mars missions? Am I incorrect?

  • Battle On! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jmkaza (173878) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:45PM (#7533267)
    This is going to be the best episode of Batttlebots ever!
  • Doc: No wonder this circuit failed. It says "Made in Japan".
    Marty McFly: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.
    Doc: Unbelievable.
  • by tomdarch (225937) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:51PM (#7533313)
    Because it's a Nozomi Express Probe, I can't use my JRPass on it!
  • The martians don't like having their picture taken.
  • They're already cranky about all the stories we write about them, so they're returning the favor by blowing up our probes!

    Stupid calots.
  • by igny (716218) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:40PM (#7533572) Homepage Journal
    There is no solution short of leaving Mars alone. Surely all probes crashed on Mars may have brought bacteria stubborn enough to survive preflight cleaning, the space flight and the entry. They may or may not thrive in future and have some long term effects. If anything, exposure to vacuum and solar flares may only aggravate situation forcing bacteria to mutate.

    But do we need any solution? After all, any manned expedition will surely affect Mars more than any probe before. Exploring Mars and fear of contamination are contradictory. There is a saying in Russia, if you are affraid of wolves, then dont explore the forest, meaning that if you want to explore something, you have to overcome your trivial fears.

    • Dude, I think you missed the point. We are exploring Mars in search of life. If we bring it there oursleves and it overruns the planet, not only will it make any indigenous life even more difficult to find but it may also wipe out any indigenous life forms. Using your analogy, if your looking for a tree, then don't nuke the forest.
      • We are exploring Mars in search of life.
        Not really. There is, almost certainly, no life on Mars, so searching for it is only one of the reasons for exploration. Another important reason is a prospect of actually doing something useful with Mars (AKA colonization.) For that purpose, contamination is irrelevant.
  • by t0qer (230538) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:42PM (#7533582) Homepage Journal
    There was an article about microwave bombs earlier. Could a narrowband (laser type microwave) deliver power to a sattelite that far out? (The article mentions it's the power system failing)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Shouldn't that be "five-year mission"? This is space, after all. The final frontier.
  • come on, guys -- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to.... uh..... nevermind.
  • Japanese Deception (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 22, 2003 @12:49AM (#7534601)
    I live in Japan and have been hearing frequently deceptive information made by japanese organizations. I am starting to believe that, for some reason, the japanese have a real problem with truth and reality.

    Recently there have been serious problems with radioactive leakage at nuclear reactors and the japanese companies responsible did initially lie to the public (and the government) about the real situation.

    The japanese economy is going through a serious recession and one of the problems is the false statements made from the financial organizations.

    Statistics about social trends and problems are dubituous, not to say manipulated. e.g., AIDS statistics.

    Discrimination and human rights violations are common, yet the reality is covered by the local news and authorities.

    Double standard and unclear laws, even for the japanese themselves, are quite common.

    Due to things like these and some others, I have been loosing respect and trust for the japanese, both at a personal and professional level.

    • You obviously don't read slashdot enough and have made a mistake...

      All those bad things you wrote about? They refer to America, you fool.

    • Yeah, the Ibaraki reactor leak was insane -- the threat of radiation wasn't that scary, but the constant 'there is nothing wrong... the atom is your freind... this is someone else's fault... stay indoors and look happy or die...' announcements were terrifying.
  • ... probably has something to say about it...
  • Mars Express is due to enter Martian orbit on Christmas Day and send a British-built Beagle 2 lander to the surface, while the NASA rovers should arrive on Jan. 3 and Jan. 24.

    I can see it now. Robot Wars on Mars! :)
  • Call bullshit (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mammothrept (588717)


    Ignore the conspiracy theory nutjobs blaming aliens for damaging the Japanese probe. There probably is something wrong (as in intentionally untrue) about this story but there is a simpler and more human explanation for it. If JAXA's version of events is correct, this is the third space vehicle they've had die recently because of solar flares. (See http://www.spacedaily.com/2003/031031090646.2kxsn 1 mx.html).

    They lost Midori-2 and Kodama in October, both supposedly due to solar flares. According
  • Yeah, right. I gave that same excuse to my boss yesterday when he asked why his e-mail wasn't working. Do they really think we're going to believe something that lame?
  • Wouldn't there be a regular exchange of any existing genetic information between planets already? There are meteorites from Mars found on earth. They weren't steralized. Do the enclosures and pockets of a lander make a big difference? Is a little bacteria okay, but a lot (or a larger variety of bacteria) dangerous? If bacterial contamination was going to happen, wouldn't it have already done so, at least to a very small degree?

    I understand erring on the side of caution, but how likely is it that these saft

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