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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 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?
  • 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.

  • by mikerich (120257) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:37PM (#7533218)
    Mars Express [] has to perform one VERY important maneuvre. On December 19th it must eject the Beagle 2 [] 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,

  • 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)

  • by Uber Banker (655221) on Friday November 21, 2003 @07:43PM (#7533254)
    I do not understand the term "$2B Japan" is not USD. Do you mean yen the equivalent of USD2bn or YEN2bn (and don't know what Japanese currency is)?

    Besides, you seem to be arguing economics and are also mentioning China.

    Firstly China != Japan

    Secondly, Chine has been buying US government debt at a large rate in the last year. This creates demand for USD which increases the price of USD. Yes, China has been subsidising the US economy (buying the US government's debt means providing financing the Bush budget deficit). US government expenditure is subsidised by China (and other Asian economies too). If these countries did not want to buy US government debt it means the demand for USD would fall, therefore the value of the USD (a function of demand and supply) would fall, i.e., the USD would cost less in overseas currencies, meaning anything bought from overseas would cost more. Increased import costs are not good for the US economy because the US (being a developed economy) benefits most from value-added (adding quality) to goods and services so it sells rather than consumer. If the currency falls that means it sells for less.

    Please feel free to reply to this to discuss economics, since the vast majority of 'economics' discussed on /. is not economics but flawed opinion.... I am happy to add something back from the economics geekdom to the tech geekdom as i truely don't like to see prejudice masked up as expert opinion (any economics discussion on /. seems to degenerate to prejudice opinion).

  • 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?

  • by ThisIsFred (705426) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:06PM (#7533407) Journal
    Not to mention that no one really has the funds to build the super-probes of yesteryear, so this is unfortunately going to happen with greater frequency. Even looking back at the historic Mars missions where the US sent those super-probes, two out of eight failed before reaching Mars. This shows us that it really has nothing to do with Mars, it's a difficult feat to send probes to Mars even with gobs of cash to spend, and it is no less difficult now than it was decades ago.
  • Re:Reliability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:12PM (#7533437) Homepage Journal
    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 it's on the opposite side of the Sun. Building a probe that would stand several hundred lightyears, traveling at speed near to light, would be pretty hard... it would take several hundred years for it to get to its destination and it would probably be hit by numerous micrometeorites in the meantime. And E=(Mv^2)/2, in this case E=(Mc^2)/2 so energy of one micrometeorite hitting the probe would be half the energy of its nuclear annihilation. Enough to evaporate a serious starship.
  • by Uber Banker (655221) on Friday November 21, 2003 @08:19PM (#7533476)
    They spent the whole $2B Japan (mostly) subsidized them this year on a space program, while they're living on international handouts. Time to give back to the people who actually paid for it.

    Let us deconstrust this:

    "They spent the whole $2B Japan (mostly) subsidized them this year on a space program," "they" and "them". This is your opening sentence but your "they" and "them" are undefined. Is China or Japan the subject and is China or Japan the object of your sentence, if so which way round?

    "while they're living on international handouts." Neither Japan (a prosperous nation albeit in some short term economic woes) nor China (which has bought much of recent US government debt, and is by far subsidising the US government and has a vast international monetary surplus) is being subsidised. The country being most subsidised in the world, at the moment, is the USA.

    "Time to give back to the people who actually paid for it." So who paid for it? The Japanese taking a commerical interest in a small minority of Chinese companies? The international investor [read Western European and North American] by pumping investment into Chinese companies and investment vechiles? The US and European governments selling their debt (this is the opposite of taking an interest, it is taking a liability)?

    No doubt you know China!=Japan (and my reply was deliberatly patronising, though it is a shame you are coward enough not to show a UID).

    But "Time to give back to the people who actually paid for it."???? If you mean give money to Japan then remember Japan have not volunteered this money, they have commercially invested and should take the hit if their investment does not pay off (and of course should be allowed to take the reward if it does). This has been a matter of few years in which time it is silly to expect repatriation of income. IMHO China is genuinely appreciative to accept international investment as it brings with it international expertise, something China needs.

    China has not defaulted on its debt (unlike most of S.America or Russia), is showing strong growth and is followwing fair international trade laws (more so than the US). Yes it needs to develop its internal competitiveness and raise more of its population from poverty and develop a more democratic government. Tis cannot be done overnight but steady steps are being taken.

    As far as repaying debt goes, China has a faultless record. Surely your post was a troll?

  • 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 ch-chuck (9622) on Friday November 21, 2003 @09:08PM (#7533690) Homepage
    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 complex and allow the spread of life to go on, whether by building moon bases or stowaway mold spores. I'll bet that every successful interstellar alien race has a policy of 'conquor first, ask questions later', while the 'kind peace loving don't interfere' races end up as their raw protein and amino acid supply.
  • by habaneroburger (184321) on Friday November 21, 2003 @09:34PM (#7533825) Homepage
    Or maybe Mars is a long way away and it's really hard to build a machine that can be expected to work for months on end whilst being baked and simultaneously frozen after being placed in a vacuum and bombarded with radiation...

    Which leads me to think that it's a good thing we're not trying very hard to mount any manned missions to Mars in the near future. If mankind has so much difficulty getting a relatively small, unmanned probe into Martian orbit/onto Martian soil, think about how much harder it would be with a vastly larger craft that needs to keep complex life-support systems in running order the whole time, and then make a safe return trip.

    I know there are a lot of Slashdot readers who think we should be all gung-ho about exploring the Solar System, and that we should be willing to accept the much higher risk that goes along with such exploration, but it's starting to look like the odds of such a mission achieving the goals of taking men to Mars and returning them safely to Earth would be pretty slim. I don't think society is prepared to wager billions of dollars not to mention human lives on a venture with a 10% chance of success. Unless we discover that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are holed up on Mars with a big stockpile of WMD, that is.
  • Re:Contamination? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by s20451 (410424) on Friday November 21, 2003 @11:15PM (#7534255) Journal
    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 another world -- assuming it has the same characteristics of Earthly life -- would have very distinct DNA from evolving on an alien world for hundreds of millions of years.

    As for damaging the evidence, life usually evolves to survive in particular climates. Microbes from the surface of Earth might survive at Mars, but they would probably not thrive, due to the differences in temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition, available nutrients, and so on. They would not take over Mars. (By a similar argument, it's unlikely that a microbe from Mars could cause any damage on Earth.)

    And as for evidence of sentient life, if aliens are like humans in terms of cleaning up after themselves, the evidence should be absolutely everywhere. (This is also known as Fermi's objection, put crudely: if there is other intelligent life in the universe, and interstellar travel is possible, then where is everybody?)
  • by barakn (641218) on Friday November 21, 2003 @11:46PM (#7534369)
    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 surface becomes part of the exterior, and the surface area to volume ratio increases. Or to look at it a slightly different way, hot gases enter and start melting things (Columbia). So the satellite tends to come apart. But individual parts of the satellite do fit the bill as dense, low surface area survivors, so the end result is a rain of metallic debris.

    But that discussion is more relevant to Earth. Mars's atmosphere is extremely thin. A satellite crashing through that might survive relatively intact. However, that also means that the atmosphere would not be able to bleed off much of its kinetic energy, so it would hit at great speed. I would expect a big explosion and crater, though I still can't guarantee bacteria wouldn't survive in debris throw clear of the explosion.

  • 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.

  • by Evil Pete (73279) on Saturday November 22, 2003 @03:18AM (#7535180) Homepage

    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.

E = MC ** 2 +- 3db