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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.
  • 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*

  • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by egyber (788117) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:35AM (#12152794)
    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...
  • 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.
  • 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.........
  • by jeffy210 (214759) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:42AM (#12152841)
    Frankly, Voyager is useless now, and money used to fund that project could be going to more worthwhile projects like the JPL rovers. The Voyager project was never meant to measure data outside of the solar system, but rather to gather data on the gas giants and outer planets. They accomplished that a long time ago.

    Yes, but tell me, when is the next time we'll have a probe that far out in say, oh, the next 20-30 years?? While we're out there and it's sending data we might as well gather it. All data is new data that can be used. And as for "the original mission", don't forget the rovers were only supposed to be for about 90 days and look how much they've done.
  • by Cruithne (658153) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:42AM (#12152844)
    Regardless, I think its much MUCH more valuable. Voyager is exploring what is generally a very empty portion of space right now with unsofisticated (by today's standards) tools.

    If you're looking for a choice between the two, I believe its no contest - Mars is closer and more scientifically interesting and important than the empty space outside our solar system.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wambaugh (666794) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:12AM (#12153004) Homepage
    Like much of what the Bush administration does, your claim is not really true while containing a grain of truth. While the overall NASA budget is being slightly increased, the administration is also dictating which areas of research will be cut and which will be expanded. Most everything but manned space-flight is being extremely reduced.

    Many projects in which billions have already been invested are being tossed asside because NASA has been directed to return to the moon and Mars and only been given a slight budget increase (for comparison, NASA's budget was about 10% of the overall federal budget during the Apollo program). For instance, the International Space Station may be abandoned now that it has just been completed and can actually be used for (however limited) scientific purposes. As with military and economic decisions under Bush, politicians are dictating scientific decisions for political gain.

    Bush is also pushing to cut most NASA facilities not in Texas, even ones in "red state" staples Alabama and Ohio. The Texas facilities are already considered pork-barrel projects and most of the scientific work of NASA has historically been done elsewhere. Though that may sound like this is not a political decision, it is important to realize that he does not need reelection so he can be even more blatant than usual.

  • 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.


    --LordPixie
  • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by UlfGabe (846629) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:19AM (#12153060) Journal
    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/04/0 5/1759243&tid=160&tid=98&tid=103&tid=14&tid=219 [slashdot.org]

    surprising how ones memory goes

    From the article: "NASA officials said the possibility of cutting Voyager and several other long-running missions in the Earth-Sun Exploration Division arose in February, when the Bush administration proposed slashing the division's 2006 budget by nearly one-third -- from $75 million to $53 million."

    try again, bush is supportive of the "I love space and support it because the common people like space" NOT the "scientists are finding new things about the universe and i applaud their efforts, and understand they need constant funding for basic research"
  • Re:Good value... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:29AM (#12153143) Homepage Journal
    They can't send nice pictures to spice up press releases anymore...
  • 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!
  • Re:Great News (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wjsteele (255130) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:43AM (#12153237)
    Which "previous mars rover's failures" are you referring too? No other "rovers" have failed. All the failures were either orbiters or landers, not rovers.

    The previous rover was Sojourner in '97... and it lasted much longer than it's planned mission as well.

    Bill
  • Re:Great News (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zakath (180357) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:45AM (#12153249)
    I'll bet the general public isn't even aware of the previous Mars rovers.
  • Re:Really nice new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eminence (225397) <akbrandt@gmaiPASCALl.com minus language> 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 Dammital (220641) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:01AM (#12153421)
    "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 [msss.com] and Mars Polar Lander [space.com]?
  • Re:Well.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starseeker (141897) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:09AM (#12153511) Homepage
    "'Interstellar space' is an arbitrary distinction. What, it crosses this boundary and all of a sudden the state of the universe massively changes? For all practical purposes, there is no comparatively valuable information that can be obtained beyond the volumes of information it's already given us from it's primary mission."

    For all we know, maybe it DOES change. Who's to say? If it did it would have MASSIVE implications for astronomy. If it doesn't, then we have experimentally confirmed that assumption. It's a very rare chance to do this experiment. We've got them out there. Let's check! How many other chances will we get in our lifetimes?
  • Re:Good value... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JJ (29711) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:13AM (#12153550) Homepage Journal
    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 adequate.) and hence have fixed reception/ transmission requirements. Thus an important component of their costs don't acclerate upward and outward as Voyager's do.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:25AM (#12153686) Homepage Journal
    They should try again. Success is what happens after you learn from your mistakes. Failure is what happens when stop trying.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mollog (841386) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:33AM (#12153804)
    "Interstellar space is an arbitrary distinction. What, it crosses this boundary and all of a sudden the state of the universe massively changes?

    I thought that interstellar space was where the solar wind from our sun was weaker than the ambient interstellar wind. Perhaps radio waves from other stars are a lot stronger out of our solar 'atmosphere'. We won't know anything until we actually go there and look. That's why it's important.
  • by Atzanteol (99067) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @10:39AM (#12153892) Homepage
    Because when somebody says "go forwards 30 feet" they want to be sure it doesn't back into a 100ft deep chasm?
  • by GileadGreene (539584) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @11:29AM (#12154506) Homepage
    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/landing - surface wind speed for example) that fortunately didn't. Landing on Mars is hard!

  • by maynard (3337) <j...maynard...gelinas@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @11:40AM (#12154650) Journal
    "Voyager is useless now. (No. It really is. No. Really.) This isn't about pictures on TV. This is about good science."

    [...]

    "If you want to use it as an excuse to Bush-bash (not saying YOU are doing that specifically), or, startlingly, make irrelevant and nonsensical references to the US apparently devolving into the former USSR, because we won't continue to fund a useless project, go for it. Everyone else is, comrade."

    ...that your primary concern in posting these comments is to defend Bush and his policies regardless of the scientific objective. You appear to have concluded a priori that the Voyager probes have no scientific value simply because Bush has concluded so. Any argument in furtherance of the scientific value of collecting data as they continue out of our solar system is met with hostile political rhetoric and tautological claims that the data is worthless because it is worthless. I find your arguments highly unconvincing; your heated political rhetoric even less so.

    Dropping the partisan issues here, let me ask: what expertise in the fields of space science, astronomy, and physics, do you posess which give scientific validity to your claims of the low relative worth of future Voyager data? Why should I believe you when specialists in the field are quoted as saying that the data is highly valuable, especially given the low collection cost? How about some facts instead of hot air? --M

  • by maynard (3337) <j...maynard...gelinas@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @12:35PM (#12155441) Journal
    [political fingerpointing snipped as irrelevant]

    "Degrees in engineering and physics aside, you still shouldn't trust me."

    I don't.

    "Voyager has had a *30 year mission*. ... But we haven't gotten any scientifically worthwhile, manifestly surprising, or unexpected data from it for years. The only thing surprising about the Voyager mission is how long it's lasted."

    Well, that's a very interesting assertion. You claim that the Voyager probes haven't sent, nor have we haven't received any scientifically worthwhile data from the probes in years. I simply don't believe this. Not just because you say so, but because scientists related quoted in the previous article say just the opposite. As referenced in that Newscientist article on 13 anomalies that don't make sense, there are real questions about shifts in the velocity and travelled distance in the Pioneer probes that the Voyager probes could shed additional light upon with further data collection. There's at least one specific question worth answering with that additional data. And probably many more. I've yet to see any factual basis for your claims to the contrary. Not even a cite; bias regardless.

    "But if you think it's George W Bush personally making decisions to pull the plug on Voyager, you kind of need to get a fucking grip. Budgets get reprioritized[...]"

    No. I think it's members of his cabinet furthering Bush's stated policy objectives, flowing down the ranks through to undersecretaries and Republican members of congress who make these specific and individual budgetary decisions. So what? The issue is relative merit of that decision, not party affiliation and political association. I argue that it's a bad decision. Period. Do I still need to "[...] get a fucking grip" for disagreeing? Should party affiliation trump agreement or disagreement on specific policy and budgetary goals, or must we all walk in lock step with the party faithful regardless of outcome?

    "Lose your emotional and symbolic ties to Voyager and seriously think about what information that would be really valid that they could return simply because they've crossed an artificial boundary?"

    Who's the one being emotional here? I and others have already cited arguments to continue collecting data. You have ignored these arguments, repeating the same tautological assertion that the data is worthless because it is worthless without a factual response. IMO, this only damages the credibility of your position. --M

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @02:14PM (#12156810)
    Voyager, being 3 axis stabilized, cannot be used to measure the pioneer anomaly. The many minor trust corrections, used to keep the HGA pointed in the right direction, cannot be correct for and the collective variance from their effect is much greater then the force of the pioneer anomaly.

    Only spin stabilized space craft can do so.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by leeward (313589) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @04:48PM (#12158744)

    I think that generally interstellar space is usually that space beyond the heliopause. Are "MASSIVE" implications for astronomy really required to justify continuing the mission? Very little time and resources are used now, and the will be the only opportunity to make direct measurements for a very long time.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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