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Mars Space The Almighty Buck United States Science

Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months 205

Posted by timothy
from the unhappy-parole-board dept.
iamlucky13 writes "NASA has stated in the latest mission press release that funding for an additional 18 months of exploration has been approved. The rovers have breezed through 14 months of operation so far, and the money will cover expenses through September of 2006. The rovers are still operating well, and recently both experienced dramatic power boosts from their solar cells. They are no longer like new, however. Opportunity has recently experienced data loss from one of its spectrometers, while Spirit has a smudged camera lens, a heavily used rock abrasion tool, and has previously struggled with intermittent steering issues."
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Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months

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  • Well.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Flounder (42112) * on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:24AM (#12152727)
    At least SOMETHING is getting enough funding in NASA.
    • Good value... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PornMaster (749461) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:31AM (#12152762) Homepage
      Incremental costs of running them must be a bargain. Great to see how well these things were made.
      • Re:Good value... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordPixie (780943) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:13AM (#12153016) Journal
        Incremental costs of running them must be a bargain. Great to see how well these things were made.

        One can basically say the same about the Voyager probes. But that doesn't seem to have saved them from being eyed for downsizing.

        • Re:Good value... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rbanffy (584143)
          They can't send nice pictures to spice up press releases anymore...
          • Exactly. The voyager probes are very nice science-nerd toys, but not much else.

            The rovers have pictures; hell, they have individual names--they aren't numbered "probes" or anything hyper-nerdy like that.

            Rovers = PR toys
            Probes = nerd toys
            • They've already provided us with one major trajectory mystery, confirmable because there are two of them. They're also supposed to be reaching the heliopause soonish, which should provide even more information that would be slow and very costly to acquire otherwise.

              Especially if they bash into that great big crystal sphere with the galaxies painted into it. (-:
              • Actually, I was just musing to myself that it could be a lensing effect caused by the light sources of out own solar system and the entropy involved therein, and not necessarily "painted" on. And there doesn't have to really be a crystal (read: physical) lens, either; it could all be due to some weird gravity envelope of our star or something absurd like that.

                It'd make for good sci-fi tv, no doubt. Especially if the bubble or lens or whatever was shrinking.
        • Re:Good value... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by JJ (29711)
          One can disagree with that. As Voyager gets further and further away, the radio receivers required to hear it and transmit to it must get more powerful/ more sensitive (read that as more expensive.) The Mars probes, sitting on Mars, are at a relatively fixed distance from Earth (note to planetary orbital geeks: I know that the distance isn't really fixed, it just varies within the limits of E + M to M - E and I don't care to describe the pattern of this distribution, just permit "relatively fixed" to be ade
      • Incremental costs of running them must be a bargain. Great to see how well these things were made.

        Well, it's not that they would be getting them back for repair, is it? Probably the cost will be mostly personnel looking at the pictures and pressing buttons. The article is somewhat vague on this.

        • My understanding is that the costs are primarily the salaries for the members of the mission team still involved in the operations. There is still the business of planning the daily drives and sorting through the spectroscopy data and pictures they receive back. They have also been continuing to develop improved flight software (funny that they still call it flight software when it's on the ground) and just did an update 2-3 weeks ago to improve autonomous driving based on what they've learned so far. That
    • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Funny)

      by beset (745752)
      True. We all know what happened to the farscape project!
    • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by egyber (788117)
      Keep in mind that it isn't always NASA's first choice to cut projects off... The Bush Administration has majorly cut back NASA's budget, leaving them with little choice. If NASA had unlimited funds, they certainly would be doing a lot more...
      • The Bush Administration has majorly cut back NASA's budget, leaving them with little choice.

        Hating Bush because he's Bush is cool and all, but he actually increased NASA's budget []. They got a 5.6% increase for 2005 and are expecting (maybe already got?) a 4.7% increase for 2006. NASA is one of the few non-defense arms of the government which has gotten a funding boost, and there's actually worry that it might make it a target for other interests ("We should spend money on earth," blah blah).
    • Re:Well.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mboverload (657893) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:42AM (#12152847) Journal
      Only because it holds the public's interest.


      Steve: "Oh, hey bob, no one cares about voyager anymore, so lets just scrap it!"
      Bob: But it will be the first man made object ever to be in interstellar space! It will be the first transmission from out of our solar system!
      Steve: Will there be any pictures?
      Bob: Thats not the point
      Steve: But what are we supposed to show on TV?
      Bob: ........
      Steve: For motherland Russia!
      Bob: WTF? I thought this was NASA?
      Steve: mean, bring me that beer and hamburger! Time for Monday Night Football!

      • I do see your point about useful science being neglected in favor of things that makes the average American smile when they see it on TV, and normally I'd say to forget about the average joe and do what's best.

        But in this case there is a dealbreaker- Joe Public is funding NASA. If the majority of the public doesn't see a use for NASA, they can demand a cut in its funding.

        It's a public program that's taxpayer funded.
  • why? (Score:5, Funny)

    by R.D.Olivaw (826349) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:28AM (#12152756)
    "Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months"

    why is that? Did it try to escape or something?

  • by Pants75 (708191) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:32AM (#12152769)
    In terms of science per dollar these two babies have got to be the most effective probes ever sent to another planetary body. Surely

    Shame that our British version was ever so slightly less successful. *Sobs*

  • by sdo1 (213835) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:33AM (#12152781) Journal
    From the quote under the picture in the article...

    "This image is from the rover's rear hazard-avoidance camera"

    What, are they worried about something sneaking up on it from behind?


    • by Frans Faase (648933) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:38AM (#12152812) Homepage
      To improve lubrication the rovers have been driving backwards a lot of times lately. I remember they started doing this when one of the front wheels of the Spirit rover started to show more friction. After driving in reverse the friction became less.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, sure. There are two rovers on Mars right now, right?

      Anything to keep those insurance premiums down.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:41AM (#12152833) Homepage Journal
      What, are they worried about something sneaking up on it from behind?

      If a wheel develops a problem during the life of the rover it may be necessesary to drive it backwards.

      Also, these robots, like many others, spent a lot of their time getting too close to hazards and having to reverse away, so being able to see behind you is pretty important.

      And another thing ... a good way to measure how far you have gone is to take a picture of your tracks. This makes it easy to integrate your movements and calculate your new position

      • And another thing ... a good way to measure how far you have gone is to take a picture of your tracks.

        I think counting how many times the wheels had gone 'round would be a far easier, and more accurate, method.

        • You'd think so. With the right equipment you can detect where the axle is to within factions of a degree and, from what, calculate how many revs the axle has made and then work out how much land coverage that translates to.

          But I'd suggest trying it out some time with a simple robot across various surfaces - you'll fnd it isn't easy or more accurate. It relies on the assumptions that the diameters of the wheels are constant (they could change as they wear or pick up/shed debris) and that 1 revolution of a w

        • I think counting how many times the wheels had gone 'round would be a far easier, and more accurate, method.

          If, as has often been the case, the wheel doesn't have traction and spins, you won't have an accurate measure. And it's hard to know that it's spinning and not providing forward motion without looking at it. And it's a good idea to have an absolute measure of distance traveled, rather than a reckoned measure.
    • No, they're worried about accidently backing up over some Martian lifeform. Can you imagine what a long costly court case would do to the budget? There's no telling if the Martians have any ears to hear the beep-beep-beep as it backs up.
  • Really nice new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MaDeR (826021) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:37AM (#12152803)
    I like both rovers. :) But I think they get more funding because of "to moon, _mars_ and beyond" thing. If NASA want to fulfill this goal, then must gather as much information as possible about Mars. I like idea of human presence on Moon and Mars, but not for price of cutting other succesful projects like Voyager.
    • Mind if they don't want to pony up the cash what they should do is web enable the control centre and allow people to make the rovers fight it out.

      Kinda like robot wars on mars.
    • I like Voyager and look forward to the return of Vger as much as the next person. But look at it this way, there are plenty of things to spend research dollars on that are much more local to us. While I'm sure Voyager would pick up lots of new neato data the reality is that I have a much more myopic view when it comes to the relevance of where to spend research dollars.
    • Re:Really nice new (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Eminence (225397) <> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:00AM (#12153409) Homepage
      • I like idea of human presence on Moon and Mars, but not for price of cutting other succesful projects like Voyager.

      I don't like the idea of scraping Voyager too, but if we really get to the Mars the amount of technology developed and overall advancement of space exploration would make another long distance probes more likely than not.

      In other words, if we go to the Mars we may some day go beyond our system but if we don't then surely not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:38AM (#12152817)
    NASA gets it right.

    These things have dramaticly outlived their projected lifetimes, while their british counterpart didn't even survive to the first day.

    Nurmerous other probes and exploration devices have been lost over the years...

    Glad they done it. And they deserve all the credit for successfully pulling off such a difficult task.

    This and successfull space flights by private industry has rekindled my hope in being able to visit space and the moon... and possibly mars, within my lifetime.
    • "These things have dramaticly outlived their projected lifetimes, while their british counterpart didn't even survive to the first day."

      Don't be so hard on Beagle; space travel is hard. Or have you forgotten the spectacular failures of NASA's own Mars Observer [] and Mars Polar Lander []?

    • NASA gets it right.

      Uh... having actually worked on the development of MER, I can tell you "NASA got lucky". Which is not to say that there weren't a bunch of incredibly talented people working on the project, or that the rovers are not well designed. But the rovers were never expected to work this long (lucky that winds seem to have cleaned the dust off the solar arrays). And there were many things that could have gone wrong (many not under the control of the design team - particularly during entry/descent

      • Thanks for mentioning that. I've heard it referred to as a "great galactic ghoul" that watches over Mars. Mars eats probes. As many accidents as the US has had concerning Mars, the Soviet program was worse - only something like 1 in 4 missions were even partial successes, and many never even got to the planet.
        • My favourite was the Soviet Mars 3, the lander component of which was the first spacecraft to land (as oppose to crash) on Mars. It supposedly started sending back video transmissions which mysteriously ceased after 20 seconds. Ooooh, spooky!

          Oh, and I hadn't heard this before: apparently it carried a rover []! A little less sophisticated than the modern version ...

  • Good old NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kkelly (69745) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:40AM (#12152824)
    Perhaps we are getting back to the good old days of NASA. You just cannot go cheap on space/planet exploration. Look at the original Pioneer probes, these things might just run forever, they were overengineered for the task from the get go. After all of the recent shuttle and probe failures, I'm glad NASA is getting more than they paid for on this one. Space exploration shoud ensure the future of the human race.........
    • "recent shuttle accident" was on an aging design that they couldn't keep maintained...

      Keep in mind that absent the absolute control over all variables pretty much anything [including space travel] involves a whole heap of "luck" along with that over engineering.

      Ever been in a plane? Prove that it was impossible for it to crash.

    • Ah, but if you can do it cheap enough you can have more probes operating for about the same cost. If we had six disposable rovers on Mars or a new Voyager probe each year then it's not as big a deal when one of them dies.

      Of course, there are overhead costs right now that are harder to eliminate. It costs a lot of money to process the data (though I'm not sure it should cost as much as it does). And it's a big deal to put a rover on mars or launch a Voyager 6. But that problem is also, arguably, another man
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder if the first man to walk on Mars will be given the job of fixing the Rover?
  • by Zerbey (15536) * on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:47AM (#12152873) Homepage Journal
    Well done NASA and the MER team, you've really exceeded all expectations with this one! I'm really intrigued to see how long they'll continue to function. Aside from some minor issues, they're still in perfect working order.

    Here's hoping they'll be getting another extension in September 2006!
  • by tomhudson (43916) <`moc.nosduh-arab ... `nosduh.arabrab'> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:55AM (#12152914) Journal
    Spirit has a smudged camera lens, a heavily used rock abrasion tool, and has previously struggled with intermittent steering issues."
    Blurring vision, dulled senses, unable to go in a straight line ...

    ... the robots are frigging DRUNK!



  • FOR SALE (Score:5, Funny)

    by jmrobinson (660094) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:06AM (#12152959)
    '03 Spirit Rover

    odometer: 0000003 miles
    abrasion tool slightly dulled
    slight steering problem
    needs a good buff
    runs great!
    Asking $15,000,000 OBO
    • Delivery option: not available, buyer collection is required.
    • Actually, this gave me an idea...

      When the funding for the rovers finally runs out and if the rovers are still usable, how about NASA running a campaign that will allow people to direct and have the rovers take pictures of whatever they wish, for a fee of course. For an additional fee, you might even be able to use the R.A.T. to inscribe a message or image onto a rock (if they are still working).

      • Not sure if you are kidding or not, but if the funding ever runs out, it will be because they can't get any more reasonable science out of the rovers, which implies that one or more major malfunctions will have compromised them. By definition they won't be operable for non-science uses. Plus controlling them would require costly access and time on NASA's Deep Space Network, which is overtasked already.

        It wouldn't take much for someone to replicate the rover's camera scene and rock abrasion tool in a buildi
  • Bravo, NASA!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IdJit (78604) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:39AM (#12153203)
    It's nice to know that some NASA projects perform beyond expectations, even with a reduced budget. The first rover mission was a prime example of pride in workmanship, despite the lack of proper funding.

    Here's hoping they can get an additional 18 months of service out of those things!
  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:15AM (#12153578) Homepage
    NASA could auction them off on ebay - The lucky buyer (or heirs) couldn't actually take possession of them for some time but it makes as much sense as paying to have a star named after someone.

      • The lucky buyer (or heirs) couldn't actually take possession of them for some time

      He could take possession of them by law. He just won't be able to take his possession for some time.

  • logo (Score:4, Funny)

    by confused one (671304) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:32AM (#12153793)
    they should have gotten commercial funding from Energizer and put the bunny logo on the rover, strategically placed where they can get a periodic shot of it with the pancam.
  • There was a scene in a old movie where a neighbor added gas to his friend VW Beetle who compulsivly tracked millage. The jokee was very excited at his luck until the reverse occurred.

    I visualize three small green guys with smirks sneaking up underneath the cameras with an extension cord from a hidden entrance...

  • are they going to send the money to mars to see if some martian can repair the rovers? or are they going to send someone over there to repair them?
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @02:15PM (#12156820) Journal
    This is from last month, but Space Daily's Bruce Moomaw has an extensive overview [] of NASA's future plans for Mars exploration, based on the results of the first meeting of the Mars Strategic Roadmap Committee. It's a highly recommended read.

    Some highlights:
    * The 2007 Phoenix [] will "land on the near-surface layer of ice-saturated ground discovered by the Mars Odyssey orbiter in Mars' north polar regions to study the ice itself and its potential for preserving biochemicals."
    * Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in 2009, which could boost the data rate coming back from Mars 10x to 100x.
    * The Mars Science Laboratory [] will likely be pushed back to 2011 (instead of 2009), but is likely to have two or more versions constructed and sent to different areas. The base cost for a single rover is estimated at $1 billion, but another rover is expected to add $400 million. The MSL (or MSLs) will be looking for traces of organic chemicals and be further investigating the geological/climate history of Mars. The MSL is expected to weigh 600 kg including 65 kg of scientific instruments, compared to the MERs which weigh 185 kg including 5 kg of scientific instruments.
    * There still seems to be considerable debate over when and how to launch a Mars Sample Return mission. One proposal I like is to send one (or more) to land near a MSL, have the MSL load a pre-drilled soil sample into the MSR, and then have the loaded MSR's return vehicle launch back.
  • Team members speculated that Spirit's power boost, like similar ones on Opportunity in October, resulted from wind removing some accumulated dust from solar panels. Spirit captured pictures of dust-lofting whirlwinds on March 10, adding evidence for windy local conditions. Images the next day showed solar panels cleaned of most of their dust buildup.

    No meteorological instruments? Anemometers and barometers are small and require minimal power to collect data continuously...why were these omitted from the p

"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." -- Artemus Ward aka Charles Farrar Brown