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Space Science

Spirit Rolls on Mars 509

Posted by michael
from the look-both-ways-before-crossing-the-street dept.
Irishman writes "It looks like the Spirit rover has finally left the womb and is rolling free on the Martian surface. Space.com has the full story and some great pictures." NASA also has photos, straight from their fake set in Hollywood where they produce all the "space" footage.
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Spirit Rolls on Mars

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  • Revisit Sojourner! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:37PM (#7986442) Homepage Journal

    I've been really hoping that one day they'll go back to the original Sojourner site and return that unit to Earth for analysis by NASA. They could gain valuable information as to what finally gave on that rover and use it to harden future rovers.

    Sojourner was a great success as it lasted much longer than expected. Of course the cost of getting that unit back to Earth would be so high I'm guessing these are just nice dreams. C'est la vie.
    • by mOoZik (698544) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:41PM (#7986516) Homepage
      The batteries can only recharge a certain number of times. Furthermore, there is no way of cleaning the solar panels, so they lose their efficiency over time. That's probably what contributed to its death and you're making a big deal out of a piece of crap rover.

      • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@nosPam.comcast.net> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:02PM (#7986839)
        Dumb question, why no wiper blades? I've heard it said that wiper blades would damage the solar panels. However if the solar panels are too dust covered to work anyways, what's the loss? It's not like they're going back for warranty repair.
        • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gUUU ... inus threevowels> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:06PM (#7986896) Homepage Journal
          Dumb question, why no wiper blades?

          Wild-ass guess, but the wiper mechanism would probably get jammed by dust just about the time if could be useful in cleaning off the solar cells.

          Seriously, even the scientists on the project wanted an RTG in the thing. They could have driven it around for *years* if they had. Instead, they got solar panels which (due to dust) have an expected lifetime of about 1/2 a year. Stupid environmentalism...
        • by evanbd (210358) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @02:44PM (#7988260)
          My understanding is that this exact option was considered. The decision was that they could include an effective dust removal system, at the cost of any one of the instruments. They chose to keep the instruments.
      • by dvd_tude (69482)
        Sheesh - the JPL guys ought to talk to some desert racers sometime. They deal with more dust in the course of a Baja 500 than most of us do in an entire lifetime.

        Anyway, some simple low-risk ideas:

        * A small air blower jet to blow the dust off. After all, there is an atmosphere (albeit a thin Martian one) to work with.

        * Tilt the panels and give them a gentle shake to get most of the dust off.

        * Use an electrostatic coating to keep the fine dust from sticking.

        As far as the batteries, couldn't they b
      • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:44PM (#7987372) Homepage Journal
        Sojurner did not have rechargable batteries.

        It had a solar panel and a primary battery. It was only meant to run for a few days.

        Bruce

    • by Maarek_1 (740578)
      I think the problem with this is that it would require something that isn't just on a one-way trip ending in a crash landing on the planet's surface. That would require development of a new type of lander and something capable of carrying the full weight of the old lander.

      I doubt that NASA has the funds or enough desire to go through all this to recover the craft.

      Kinda sad though
    • by marksven (137944) *
      It's not like Sojourner is going anywhere. I'm sure when we've mastered interplanetary flight to the point that it's just routine, we'll probably go back to all the left-behind probe carcasses to do some kind of forensic study and make monuments out of them for the tourists to see.
    • Nah, just wait long enough and it will return itself to Earth to look for it's Creator ;)
  • by locutus_borg (36786) <olocutus@NOspAm.hotmail.com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:38PM (#7986455)
    ...It better roll one way or another.

    • Six wheel drive!

      It's like unleashing a panther.

    • Shame it'll be over so quickly, 90 days is predicted I think.

      I've read that this mission is limited by the build up of dust on the rovers solar cells, reducing the power attained to the point where the rover can no longer function.

      An obvious solution (to me, here in my comfy chair) would seem to be the ability of the rover to gently tilt and/or shake its panels to remove at least some of the dust.

      Since the rover arrived with it's panels folded could it just fold and unfold them again to shake some of it off?

      It seems such a pity for the mission to end for such a mundane reason since I presume it would otherwise continue until the batteries failed or physical wear/damage destroyed some key component.

      Solutions for other missions spring to mind, perhaps:
      - blowing the dust away with a small directed jet of compressed air.
      - A small fan or brush on a simple arm.
      - Speciali(s|z)ed tilt/shake schemes (as above).
      - Raise the panels up on a windy day (without blowing over).
      - Layers of protective film that can be peeled away.

      • I wonder if there might be some way to build up a charge to clean them off? Shaking or tilting probably wouldn't work -- look at the crap that gets stuck on your car over time and it doesn't come off at over 100km/h.

        I've read that some sort of solar panel wipers or brushes wouldn't work as they'd scratch the surface, allowing less light to reach it.

        The plastic film idea reminds me of the removable visor strips racecar drivers have on their helmets. Sounds like a good one. Patent? Boo, hiss ;-)

      • by BTWR (540147) <americangibor3@NoSpAm.yahoo.com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @02:01PM (#7987655) Homepage Journal
        Wow! Good for you! You think like a NASA guy...
        I'm not sure of the specifics, but the missions principal scientist was my professor in college and he specifically said that they tried some of your exact ideas for the next rover (which was actually a cancelled 2003 mission). They tried a windshield-wiper type deal, layers of plastic film that would roll off every few days (think like a doctor's office, how they tear off that butcher paper and roll a new cover over for each new patient).

        He didn't delve too much into specifics, but he definately said that they simply didn't get any of these ideas to work. Actually, there was a brief period of time when they were actually close to getting RTGs to power the rovers (plutonium, like the ones used in the Viking landers that allowed them to operate for 5 years), but the Greens stopped that :(
      • Right now Martian summer is slowly becoming Martian winter, and Mars is moving away from the sun (its orbital eccentricity is higher than earth's and has a major effect on Mars' climate).

        So the solar cells will provide less power due to the lower sun angle and brightness, even without any dust accumulation.

        Assuming no major mishaps, what will eventually kill the rover is lack of power to heat the electronics at night. Electrical components don't last very long unprotected from the wild temperature swings
  • More info (Score:4, Informative)

    by hcg50a (690062) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:38PM (#7986463) Journal
    There is also information from SpaceFlightNow [spaceflightnow.com] here [spaceflightnow.com] and here [spaceflightnow.com].

    Here's a photo [spaceflightnow.com] of the landing platform it just rolled off of.

    From the cited article: 'Data from the Spirit rover shows it completed this morning's drive off the lander at 3:41 a.m. EST. Confirmation was received on Earth just before 5 a.m. EST, verifying that Spirit had performed the 10-foot voyage on its own.

    The move took approximately 78 seconds, ending with the back of the rover about 2.6 feet away from the lander egress ramp, officials report.

    "It's as if we get to drive a nice sports car, but in the end we're just the valets who bring it around to the front and give the keys to the science team," says flight director Chris Lewicki.'
  • by sielwolf (246764) * on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:39PM (#7986480) Homepage Journal
    JPL engineers played Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" in the control room as they watched new images confirming that the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit successfully rolled off its lander platform early Thursday morning.

    Oh for the love of... Really, we didn't need to hear this. I hope that didn't get caught on film because that's the sort of thing that resurfaces at retirement parties. ;p
  • Way to go (Score:5, Funny)

    by strictnein (318940) * <strictfoo-slashdot AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:40PM (#7986494) Homepage Journal
    JPL engineers played Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" in the control room

    Way to go and really enforce those nerd stereotypes. Come on guys.

    NASA also has photos, straight from their fake set in Hollywood where they produce all the "space" footage.

    That is such a big lie!
    Those sets have been moved to India.
  • Sorry chaps (Score:5, Funny)

    by paranode (671698) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:41PM (#7986520)
    Dear Great Britain,

    This is a picture of Mars, hope you like it!

    Wishing you were here,

    The US of A

    Oh come on, laugh, it's not meant to be an insult! ;)
  • by starvingcodeartist (739199) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:41PM (#7986524)
    About what might happen should the Martian government get their hands on the rover. They will most likely have to destroy it to cover up the fact that their planet has been visited by machines from another planet. Let's just hope we can get a picture of their leaders before they disconnect the cameras!
    • Let's just hope we can get a picture of their leaders before they disconnect the cameras!

      what leaders? We will just see some poor homeless martians toying with the machine until they accidentally destroy the cameras. Then a one who is smarter will try to sell it for food.
  • by ksheka (189669) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:42PM (#7986526)
    The set was moved to Area 51 a number of decades ago.

    [ObRant]Sheesh! If you're not going to pay attention to the facts, then why bother posting???[/ObRant]
    • Actually, everything was outsourced to India.
    • if they are going to do mars and the moon they will need a moon set and a mars one - mind you they could use the same one if they expanded it a bit and different filters on the camera so long as they just never filmed the 2 things at the same time. Better yet use identical rovers/landing equipment in both places - 'to save money' then they could just timeshare.

      Mind you area 5 is surrounded by lots of nice desert - rip out the sagebrush and only film at night (everyone knows it's always night on the moon,

  • Did anyone else notice the problem airbag in the photo? Too bad the rover couldn't simply have rolled over it.
  • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:45PM (#7986578)
    I understand that the mission controllers wanted to take their time and not make any foolish mistakes, a policy I agree with.

    However, I don't understand why they kept saying that moving the rover off the lander was "dangerous". I thought the rover was designed to be able to deploy even if the lander came to rest upside down. Instead it was right-side-up on level ground. The rover had to drive over the deflated balloon, but why was that more dangerous than just driving over the surface?

    sPh

    • by Cyclopedian (163375) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:49PM (#7986652) Journal
      The rover had to drive over the deflated balloon, but why was that more dangerous than just driving over the surface?

      Because mission engineers had tested the same setup (airbag position, rover position) and found that the orignal exit ramp had a chance that the rover's solar panel would get caught on the airbag. They decided to opt for the safest route, and turned the rover around and out through the second exit ramp.

      Spaceflightnow.com has all the details. [spaceflightnow.com]

      -Cyc

    • However, I don't understand why they kept saying that moving the rover off the lander was "dangerous"...

      but why was that more dangerous than just driving over the surface?

      I don't recall them saying it was more dangerous. I think they just said that it was dangerous.

      I, for one, would consider almost any maneuver by the rover to be dangerous. After all, this is the first time those components have experienced leaving the Earth's atmosphere, existing in Mars' atmosphere, and everything in between.

      Many

    • by zapp (201236) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:56PM (#7986745)
      * Driving over the balloons is more dangerous than martian terrain. They could get caught in the wheels.

      * Suppose some part of the rover had been broken on landing, but had not surfaced yet because it had not moved. Think of a broken neck - it doesn't cause paralysis until you move and sever your nerves.

      * Take advantage of a controlled situation. They wanted to take advantage of a controlled situation for as long as they could. From the lander they could take panoramic pictures from a sligh elevation. They could atmospheric measurements, etc. All this could be done without the adding the possible failure points introduced by moving the rover.

      * The lander has more solar panels and perhapse some better communication hardware. Might as well take advantage of them while you're there.

      I just pulled those off the top of my head. I'm sure there are better reasons and it's been discussed here before. Will you people stop bickering about them taking too long to move it?

      How's this: Give me 3 equally good reasons why they should have hurried to get it off the lander.

    • Just to clarify: landing upside-down wasn't a failure mode because the lander could right itself by "flipping over" during deployment. This only gets the assembly into the right position for letting the rover roll off. This, as we've seen, is a whole different proposition.

      Spirit actually had to roll off a 4-5" drop at the bottom of the ramp, possibly because of rocks, uneven ground, etc. That drop would've flipped Sojourner, for example, on its back. Being the size of a golf cart, Spirit has some advan
      • Just to clarify: landing upside-down wasn't a failure mode because the lander could right itself by "flipping over" during deployment.

        That's what I like to see: a practical use for Robot Wars technology :-)
        Does it also have a big spinning disk and a wedge design for upending other robo^H^H^H^H Martia... oh, never mind!
    • The airbags were designed to deflate in sequence so if the lander came to rest wrong way up after its bouncedown it could right itself before opening up to reveal the rover. If the lander got stuck upside down, like in a crevasse, then there would be no way of deploying.

      The sequence of activities to ready the rover for movement off the lander were the most complex series of steps ever undertaken by a space probe. Dozens of small pyrotechnic devices had to be fired to release clamps, sever cables and so on.

  • So if these space photos are made on a set (or out in a desert), where would all that money that Bush just announced he's giving NASA go? In my opinion, NASA should forget cameras and go for full-on fraudulent Mars cinematography. Complete with a full cast of Martian characters, leading up to a climax where the main character has to make a decision about whether his best friend lives... or DIES. *cue the tear*

    His friend is a talking pie.
  • by Anonym1ty (534715) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:47PM (#7986620) Homepage Journal

    Well I am glad to see that the thing did not get stuck on a balloon.

    The chance of spirit getting stuck made me think. (For the next ones we make) Why not get some very small solid rocket engines and put them facing in all directions on this thing. If the rover gets stuck, then as a last resort they could try igniting one or more of these small rockets engines to try and dislodge the rover. These rocket engines would probably be the smallest model rocket engines (or smaller) since I would hope you wouldn't need much of a bang to move in the Martian gravity. They are also pretty cheap.

    granted you'd only get one shot, but if it's a last resort it's better to have one shot then none.

    • I've got a better idea. What if we build a large wooden rabbit...
    • Why not get some very small solid rocket engines and put them facing in all directions on this thing.....They are also pretty cheap.

      Great idea! Duct tape $5 bottle rockets all over the rover! That'll definitely decrease its chances of failure. Brilliant!

      You wouldn't happen to work in the European Space Agency, would you?
    • "...since I would hope you wouldn't need much of a bang to move in the Martian gravity."

      That only counts if you're going up, i.e. pulling against the gravity of the planet. The mass of everything involved is still the same, and that governs the amount of force you need to move against inertia.

      So if you need to push the rover around, you'll need similar-sized forces (i.e. engines) that you'd need on Earth*.

      (*) For the pedants: OK, the atmosphere is thinner, and the lack of gravity would reduce friction

    • by lynx_user_abroad (323975) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:10PM (#7986932) Homepage Journal
      Why not get some very small solid rocket engines and put them facing in all directions on this thing.

      A common reaction to the realization of a vulnerability is to add complexity to address the vulnerability. This is often a bankrupt strategy.

      Wouldn't you feel silly if the "next ones" incorporated exactly this suggestion, and were unusable upon landing because "a small rocket engine, included to address the possibility of a rover getting stuck, ignited on re-entry and destroyed several critical components..."

      On projects like this, every gram of hardware costs pounds of fuel, every contingincy plan requires man-weeks of meetings, and every non-essential task added to the process list amounts to a lost opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experiment. The last thing you want is find youself facing actual mission failure because of some contingency you put in place to address a possible mission failure.

  • by Pedrito (94783) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:48PM (#7986641) Homepage
    Did you look at those pictures? You can see the curve of it's surface from the surface. I dunno, I don't think life could have existed on a planet that small.
  • I found this [nasa.gov] to be one of the more interesting links from the NASA site. It is about a watchmaker in California who modified mechanical watches to keep Mars time.
  • by nate1138 (325593) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:51PM (#7986680)
    JPL engineers played Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" in the control room as they watched new images confirming that the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit successfully rolled off its lander platform early Thursday morning.

    A bunch of sweaty scientists dancing around the lab to "who let the dogs out"? Was Steve Ballmer there?

  • by SpaceRook (630389) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:54PM (#7986715)
    You can actually see the curvature of the planet! Does The Little Prince [amazon.com] live there?
  • by Savatte (111615) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:58PM (#7986768) Homepage Journal
    I keep waiting for a picture that looks like mom in a spinning class.
  • Sniff a rock! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:58PM (#7986770) Homepage Journal
    I think they should hurry up and do a close-up analysis of a rock rather than worry about long-distance jaunts. If it croaks in a few days, not having analyzed a single rock up close would be a shame.
  • by aliens (90441) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @12:59PM (#7986787) Homepage Journal
    I remember someone back a couple of years was caught in JPL's computers. Maybe there are some backdoors still? ::)

    Shotgun first drive! Of course I realize it's not like an RC car, but I can imagine right?
    • by MyHair (589485)
      Heck, you can download the software [telascience.org] yourself and drive a virtual version of the rover. For Windows, Linux, Solaris, and even Mac I think. And you can download actual photos/data from Spirit and have external 3d views.

      You can even download via Bittorrent...those JPL guys are so nerdy it's great.

      I downloaded and skimmed the manual but haven't tried it myself yet, but from the manual it's apparent you can view your rover in 3rd-person 3D.
  • Interesting soil (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fr33z0r (621949) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:01PM (#7986816)
    The dirt sticking to the wheels of Sojourner (Pathfinder) was discussed at great lengths on a board I read [anomalies.net] (bit of a crazy board full of the insane for the most part, but there are decent threads from time to time), a bunch of people yelling "it's mud, Mars is wet!" when in reality Soujourner had spun it's wheels in the dirt and essentially "dug" in the dirt... Well, that and the "dirt" is largely magnetite which is inherently magnetic.

    Flash forward to today and we've got the "magic carpet", and dirt sticking to Spirit's wheels, sans digging - very interesting, and by the sounds of it also very unexpected. It will be great to find out what's making it stick, and just "how Mars works" in general.

    Did I ever mention how glad I am humanity has another rover on an alien world? :)
    • Re:Interesting soil (Score:3, Informative)

      by toby360 (524944)
      The sticking is likely because gravity is about 1/2 that of earths. Fine particles will cling much sooner in lower gravity when electrostatically charged. The martian world is probably covered in very very fine dust as the grains on the surface are blown around constantly grinding into ever finer particles. The lack of water would also mean the particles keep on the surface, when on earth they get washed into the ground much more easily.

      Extremly fine dusts will act similar to this depending on the type of
  • by enjo13 (444114) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:03PM (#7986841) Homepage
    They've really stumbled onto something interesting. The martian soil in this area appears to have a really strange consistency... they've talked about it before, it looks like mud...

    I hope it doesn't get stuck, it'd suck to have to call a tow truck (or a martian redneck with a winch) to get it out:)
  • Official pics (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fr33z0r (621949) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:06PM (#7986892)
    The best site for Spirit pictures (and Opportunity when it lands too, I'm sure) is JPL's MER site [nasa.gov], it's the official site, so first with the pictures (and if you click one of the dated releases and change the date in the URL manually you can sometimes get a sneak peek at the days release half an hour earlier than the rest of the world - about 4:30pm GMT or thereabouts :)
  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@anne x i a .org> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:10PM (#7986937) Homepage
    I submitted this to Slashdot yesterday, but apparently it's not as interesting as this 12 hour late story about the Mars lander.

    Anyway, as reported by the BBC [bbc.co.uk], American scientist Don Mitchell [mentallandscape.com] found the original Soviet Venera probe data from the surface of Venus and he applied modern image processing techniques to it to produce some stunning new pictures [mentallandscape.com].

    He also has a really fantastic site about the Soviet Venera probes [mentallandscape.com].

    Rich.

  • of what can be achieved with robots.

    Honestly, what would we gain by sending humans?

    • In the short run: Footage of that first step onto the Martian surface for the current president to use in a campaign commercial.

      In the medium run: Footage of that first step onto the Martian surface for crazed conspiracy theorists to pour over, looking for proof it was filmed in the Gobi Desert.

      In the long run: Footage of that first step onto the Martian surface for MTV to repurpose.

      (This is a funny post, but I could write a serious one too, but I'm also sure someone else will. Whether the someone else w
    • by dubious9 (580994) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:33PM (#7987225) Journal
      Uh... to gain insight on how we can live on other planets. Life on earth is doomed, but it just won't happen (sun expanding) for a long long time. Take into account the chance of life extinguishing asteriods hitting earth, and I'd think that people would want to ensure the survivability of the species.

      Face it, the earth is fragile and life on it only temporary until we figure out how to live without it.

      Not to mention that humans doing experiments on mars GREATLY reduces the latency. How long does a round trip signal take? I could go on and on about why we want humans on mars.
  • by kjdames (588423) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:16PM (#7986999)
    Thank you for the toy RC car. To think, it only took you 4.55 billion of your years to get it to us! However, now that you have proven yourselves almost capable of inter-planetary traveling, we must send our Biker Mice to crush you like the bugs you are. Starting with Tim Burton. Signed, Supreme Commander of Mars
  • straight from their fake set in Hollywood where they produce all the "space" footage.

    Like this [imdb.com]?

  • Let's hope NASA never name a rover "Egg".
  • They should have named the rover "Egg", then we could have headlines such as, "Egg Rolls On Mars!" People would glance that and say, "It *is* true: you can buy Chinese food ANYWHERE."
  • Oh My *Deity*, im watching this guy give a talk on NasaTV (Nasa Update) He has been talking nonsense for at least half an hour and his audience look bored to tears !

    nick ..
  • by s0l0m0n (224000) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:27PM (#7987139) Homepage
    You insensitive clod!

    Didn't you ever wonder what Area 51 was really for?
  • by sofakingl (690140) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @01:52PM (#7987499)
    Oh, you mean the Spirit rover. For a second there I thought that we Americans had ditched "freedom" for "spirit" in our anti-French food terminology.
  • by Woutepout (733700) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @03:00PM (#7988483)
    Why does this thing have a "backwards looking hazard identification camera"? Are they that confident about finding life on Mars that they expect to be fleeing from it?

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