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Mars Space Science

The Rovers That Just Won't Quit 299

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the still-going-bum-bum-bum dept.
smooth wombat writes "Like the Energizer bunny, the two martian rovers just won't quit. Spirit, after climbing to the top of Husband Hill during the past year, spent two months examining rocks at the top of the hill and scientists confirmed that those rocks were similar to rocks found along the side of the hill indicating that Husband Hill is probably the result of an impact crater. It will take about two months for Spirit to make its way down the hill after which the next target will be a feature called Home Plate located about a half mile away. Opportunity is exploring the northern rim of Erebus Crater, the largest crater between already-explored Endurance Crater and its next destination, Victoria Crater. The rovers were only supposed to last three months but have been operating for almost two years. NASA has also released a 360 degree panorama of images taken by Spirit as it explored Gustav Crater."
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The Rovers That Just Won't Quit

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  • Read this book. (Score:5, Informative)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:46AM (#13881174) Homepage Journal

    I read Roving Mars [amazon.ca] a few months ago. It was written by Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the Mars missions. A very good book with some behind the scenes scoop on the politics and squabbling involved in getting these things build and sent. Highly recommended.
    • Re:Read this book. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bartash (93498)
      The reviews at Amazon USA [amazon.com] seem to suggest that the book only covers getting to Mars, not the actual operation of the Rovers. Is this true? Did it spoil the book for you?
    • Re:Read this book. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BTWR (540147) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .3robignacirema.> on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @09:55PM (#13886420) Homepage Journal
      Dr. Squyres was a professor of mine at Cornell. He was one of the best professors/teachers i have EVER had. I have rarely, if ever, seen someone infuse so much enthusiasm into a class. He'd tell us all of these "secret stories" from Cold War NASA, and I remember him coming 15 minutes late to class one afternoon after he had literally landing in the local airport from NASA, when he told us about how the Rovers had JUST been funded. It was so awesome hearing his enthusiasm about Spirit and Opportunity's 3-month mission prospects (of course then, the rovers were unnamed). He had told us about this about 3 days before NASA announced a press release.

      In fact, the first day of class, he said that the entire class was "off the record" and I don't think he even wanted the college newspaper students in there. (and i'm only disclosing that above story because it's obviously ok to say now. but... his others stories stay with me!). - All Cornell Ugrads - make sure to take his classes! (and Jim Bell, another AWESOME astro prof - wrote me my recommendation for med school).

  • by hcob$ (766699) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:47AM (#13881188)
    had the spirit to climb husband hill!!
  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:49AM (#13881220) Journal
    • Here's what is really going on.

      It's a martian university information technology research project. the local martian college geeks have hacked into the systems and are feeding them a virtual reality data stream of what they want us poor earthlings to receive as data. The trick is to see how long they can keep us going.

      the two systems are actually sitting inside a research lab in separate rooms in a cave someplace on the northern slope of Valles Marenaris [sp?]

      Everything is simulated in glorious high preci

  • Larger version... (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoeLinux (20366) <joelinux@nosPaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:49AM (#13881224) Homepage
    Not to be cruel and kick up their bandwidth, but is a larger version [nasa.gov]
  • Larger pictures? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fak3r (917687) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:49AM (#13881226) Homepage
    Does anyone have a link to LARGER pictures of what the rovers are seeing? The linked to 360 view [http://origin.mars5.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/sp irit/20051021a/site_A114_880_navcam_360_cyl-A627R1 _br.jpg%5D [nasa.gov] is cool, but too small for details. Looking for a nice one to span two monitors for a nice desktop. I remember some of the first shots showing the side of the landing craft, some tire tracks and such were just amazing.
  • by pmike_bauer (763028) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:49AM (#13881233)
    "...and scientists confirmed that those rocks were similar to rocks found along the side of the hill..."

    The bot went over the crater, the bot went over the crater
    The bot went over the crater, to see what he could see.
    And all that he could see, and all that he could see
    Was the other side of the crater, the other side of the crater
    The other side of the crater, was all that he could see.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:50AM (#13881241)
    Maybe..

    For two reasons:

    1. It raises the expectations for the duration of unmanned missions. If future missions don't last as long people will obviously compare it to these.

    2. Funding. If the perception is these craft last a long time then maybe people will say you don't need as many.

    • by Iriel (810009)
      To address your second point, I have to wonder if this could actually help funding. "Well I wasn't going to pay for a moving camera that would die in three months, but two years on the other hand..." Then the problem could go back to your first point: it could cut off funding if the next mission doesn't live up to expectations.
    • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:59AM (#13882034) Homepage Journal
      It definitely puts pressure on future mission designers to manage expectations as carefully as the rover mission designers. Fortunately, as long as the technology keeps improving, they'll continue to get better.

      But perception of "how much we need" is a much thornier problem for the administrator of NASA. Success is always good; few people have any idea how much this costs, and most are sort of resigned to the few bucks per person this mission costs. In return they get to be The Country That Explores The Planets, and people are willing to pay a lot for that kind of pride.

      What gets people ticked about the price is failure. It maakes people feel like laughingstocks in front of the world. Few people really understand the science, or benefit directly from what we learn about Mars, but they feel good that it's us who discovered it. They feel like the most advanced country in the world.

      So I wouldn't worry about people saying, "Yeah, we know quite enough about Mars." That's a mission people can get behind, as compared to (say) a war costing 1,000 times as much. The war may accomplish more (depending on whom you ask) but Science (with a capital S, the vague and mysterious one, as opposed to the lower-case-s "science" where we actually learn stuff) is always popular. At least when it wins.
  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moby Cock (771358) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:50AM (#13881242) Homepage
    I wonder if there are any realistic estimates on how long it will take to properly digest the data that has been sent back by these robots. The original estimate was for the rovers to survive 90 days and they figured that the data received would occupy planteary scientists for years to come. The data they have now ought to occupy scientists for decades.

    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer (890720)
      "The original estimate was for the rovers to survive 90 days and they figured that the data received would occupy planteary scientists for years to come. The data they have now ought to occupy scientists for decades."

      Except that a lot of the data will be redundant. Fixed time based on type of data for analysis, variable time based on quantity of data.

      Not to say that the extra data is worthless, or that it can't provide additional insight... but some of the data is just increasing sample size.

      Besides
      • Re:Hmmmm (Score:3, Informative)

        by bogado (25959)
        Redundancy is actually good, with more data you can confirm the observations made in another sets of redundant data.

        Also the probability of finding something out of the ordinary get's higher with more data. If on 1 in a 10000 pictures would capture some rare kind of rock in mars, with the extended lifetime of the rovers it will be more probable to find that rock, among the data.
        • Re: redundancy, I totally agree -- however, it doesn't take as much time as unique data.

          Good point on the likelihood of finding anomalies. And the time spent on those is really dependent on the quantity of them, as well as the type.
    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bronz (429622)

      No one reads the data. They put it in a box with a swastika on the side and cart it of into some huge government warehouse.

  • by LearnToSpell (694184) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:51AM (#13881256) Homepage
    They didn't even Photoshop out the tennis courts on the right. I knew these things were faked!
  • by lawrenqj (782546) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:51AM (#13881258)
    I wonder if NASA accidentally used months instead of years when calculating the lifespan of the rovers.
    • by Surt (22457) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:57AM (#13881335) Homepage Journal
      In case anyone reads this and really doesn't know, NASA had expected that the solar panels would become dust clogged and stop providing power by now. But as it turns out, martians have been dusting them off every so often, so the rovers have lasted much longer than expected.
      • Re:conversion error? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Hussman32 (751772) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:13AM (#13881523)
        That is pretty funny, and not untrue.

        One of the designers gave a presentation to our conference the day after they landed. It's easy to say they sandbagged their estimate, but they have had a host of challenges such as
        • In addition to the dust, they had concerns about the batteries freezing. They have a very small bit of plutonium included to keep them warm, but it was a very real possibility that they would lose too much heat and be dead in the water.
        • The firmware for one of the rovers (Opportunity, I think) had to be completely uploaded and rebooted remotely (that's when it was lost for a while).
        • Leaving the landing foam was a pain, I think one of the Rovers was stuck for a while before it got out.
        • The terrain itself is unpredictable, and even though they have six wheel independent suspension traveling at a slow pace, one wrong crater and they are screwed. One of them did get stuck for a while, they wiggled their way out.

        So yeah, say they sandbagged it, but in reality, it was entirely possible that they could have worked only for a day (or not at all) and they would have been ostracized for being incompetent when they actually did a fine job. Congratulations to them.
        • Re:conversion error? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:58AM (#13882027)
          They both had a flaw that when their flash memory got too full a buffer overflow in the memory management software would reboot the machine. Spirit had been operating and collecting data first and thus encountered the problem before Opportunity ran into it too. The fix was to disable the flash memory from a safe mode so they could point the high gain antenna and send a fixed software version (once they figured out what was causing the problem). It really was a close call.

          There was no landing foam. There were inflated bags that cushioned the impact as the lander bounced. The bags had cords attached to them that were retracted after landing to pull the deflated bags under the lander out of the way. The retraction didn't work 100%, and there was concern that the rover's wheels would get tangled up in the bags or the cords (which turned out not to happen).

          The rover actually got stuck on mostly flat terrain. It was crossing some low wind swept dunes which the wheels eventually just dug into (think a car on the beach). By wiggling back and forth they were able to back out, and they added some movement rules for the auto drive that if a lot of slippage occurs the move stops so as not to dig so deep into loose sand.
          • Re:conversion error? (Score:3, Informative)

            by Chuckstar (799005)
            Three nitpicks

            1) It wasn't a buffer overflow. It was a filesystem error caused by trying to add the 32,769th file to a file system which uses 16-bits to track files.

            2) They didn't upload a new software version. The uploaded a script that could operate on the flash system without mounting it, so they could delete enough files to mount the flash system. They then had to re-upload some files that had been corrupted. They didn't have to upload a new OS, since it really didn't do anything wrong. The error was in
        • by bullitB (447519) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:46PM (#13882502)
          it was a very real possibility that they would lose too much heat and be dead in the water

          THE WATER? See! See! They have been covering up their knowledge of martian water.
    • Voyeger (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WindBourne (631190)
      I know that you are being funny, but this is the same work as Voyeger. Basically, they tell the politicians that the mission will last a short time, so that they appear to be relatively low-cost missions and that all objectives were met. Now, it appears as though these are wildly successful so the pols keep the money coming. smart engineers, dumb pols.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      I wonder if NASA accidentally used months instead of years when calculating the lifespan of the rovers.
      My guess would be "yes." Nobody knows what to expect from a Mars rover (not even NASA, really)... so set expectations for the lower bound, then pat yourself on the back for whatever else you get.
  • by hcob$ (766699) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:52AM (#13881268)
    While it's outstanding that these things are running so well for so long, it's amuzing that people haven't thought of this from an engineer's perspective.

    These things are horribly over-engineered. Not that it is a bad thing they are proving so resilliant, but we're now at 8x the "designed" life span. In my mind, that means they could have probably built it half as robust and still been outstanding pieces of machinery(and alot less expensive).

    I know that hindsight is 20/20, and I'm not judging the engineers poorly on this feat(quite the opposite in fact). I just thought someone might want to point that little tid-bit out...

    Now, FLAME ON!!
    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:56AM (#13881329)
      Well, look at it this way: the rovers were designed with redundancy and robustness so that if things go somewhat wrong they can still provide their target lifespan. A side effect of this is that when things don't go wrong, they exceed their target lifespan.
    • by am 2k (217885) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:58AM (#13881359) Homepage
      In my mind, that means they could have probably built it half as robust and still been outstanding pieces of machinery(and alot less expensive).

      The problem is, when you build them less robust, they might not survive the landing, so you would get a zero livespan...

      • This is a good point. The total probablity of mission success would be the wieghted sum of all possible events minus thier mutual probablity. To get through the first few events (transit to orbit and landing), the amount of over-engineering required could easily render the probabilty of failure later on negligible.

        P(failure)=P(crash) +P(land){P(!survive landing)+P(all other failure events after landing)-overlap}

      • This is true, and so is the parent post. I can't really speak for this particular project, which is actually cheaper than most NASA stuff, but most other NASA missions are over engineered and too expensive.

        Think about it like this. To make a project that is 90% sure to work it costs X dollars. To make the project 99% sure to work it costs 2*X dollars or more! As the levels of redundancy and robustness of the equipment increases the price increasess exponentially. The 99th percent costs more than the 98th pe
    • by Viol8 (599362) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:00AM (#13881380)
      "probably built it half as robust and still been outstanding pieces of machinery"

      Yeah , why did those engineers bother over engineering. They could
      have made them out of some old beer cans and kit from radio shack.
      Hey they might only have lasted 10 seconds but think of all the
      money saved!
    • My guess would be the over-engineering of the rovers was not a significant part of the cost? Maybe some more expensive components and materials, but the labor costs might have been unchanged. Surely the cost of getting the rovers to Mars would not be affected.

      This is nickel and dime stuff. And for those nickels and dimes we get over a year of solid planetary science? Where's the down side again?

      And the expected lifespan might have been a lower limit on their MTBF analysis. Those are always lowball becau

      • I agree with you on this, but I also wonder what the breakdown of costs for the ongoing missions looks like. Some expenses are well in the past already (hardware and software development, testing, launch, etc), while others are ongoing (human capital, computers to analyze the incoming data, facilities in which the scientists work, office supplies for them, etc).

        How many people are still actively working at least thirty hours per week on the rovers (or rather, on keeping them running on learning from the
    • Sure, so next time they build an unmanned probe without so much redundancy and resiliency, and something small breaks on the thing rendering the entire craft useless. You don't think they would get heat for that?

      Space flight is hard. Landing on another planet is hard. Driving around on another planet by remote control is hard. The redundancy and robustness is built in to these systems because we know there are about 10,000 things that could go wrong, and we want to protect against these things. If we d
    • by Rasta Prefect (250915) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:16AM (#13881564)
      These things are horribly over-engineered. Not that it is a bad thing they are proving so resilliant, but we're now at 8x the "designed" life span. In my mind, that means they could have probably built it half as robust and still been outstanding pieces of machinery(and alot less expensive).

      Thats a problem with your mind, not with NASA's strategy. In short, the actual construction costs of the rovers are a very small portion of the cost of a mission of this nature. Skimping on the construction isn't going to save significantly on design costs, nor is it going to reduce the cost of flinging it halfway across the solar system and monitoring it on the way.

      What you call "Over-engineering" likely only increased to cost of the project by a couple of percent at most, and greatly improved the chances of success, avoiding the necessity of paying all of the overhead costs _again_ to lauch another one because this one plowed into the ground.

      Penny wise, pound foolish as my Grandma would say. :)

    • These things are horribly over-engineered. Not that it is a bad thing they are proving so resilliant, but we're now at 8x the "designed" life span. In my mind, that means they could have probably built it half as robust and still been outstanding pieces of machinery(and alot less expensive).

      If I may interject, WHO says they're overengineered? In fact, to the best of my knowledge they are anything *but* overengineered. When the Spirit rover had technical difficulties shortly after landing, one of the things that came out was the lack of backup systems and the inability of the craft to keep its solar panels clean. Things that many of us wished the rovers had were RTGs, Solar Panel Wipers, Longer Lasting Batteries, Redundant Computers, Larger Storage Capacity, Anything but Vx[Doesn't]Works, etc. NASA hadn't put many of these goodies onboard because the rovers were built in a relative hurry, with all expectations of short lifespans.

      Unexpectedly, it turned out that pretty much all the components on the rovers far exceeded their expected lifetimes. As far as the engineers are concerned, the solar panels should be caked, the batteries shouldn't hold a charge, the wheels should be gunked up, and the computers should have no remaining capacity. Yet the rovers live on. Very puzzling for the engineers, but very nice for the scientists. :-)
      • by GileadGreene (539584) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @02:37PM (#13883436) Homepage
        In fact, to the best of my knowledge they are anything *but* overengineered.

        Very true. The entire MER program was mass-constrained from the get-go. They barely fit on the launch vehicle. At some points during the design cycle the mass margin was negative, and the systems engineers had to hunt around for things to take off. There was no room to spare for over-engineering, because there just wasn't any spare mass for anything other than the bare minimum to achieve the mission. I speak from direct knowledge here, because I sat through the debates about whether or not to have two transponders (final decision: one - the SDST was considered reasonably reliable), and similar debates about the solid-state power amplifiers (the final word I heard was two SSPAs, due to their potential for failure, but that may have changed after I left the program). We used to joke that the only redundant things in the entire systems were the heaters and the SSPAs.

    • Or the requirements fed to the engineers were wrong or grossly exagerated. Not suprising since we hadn't been there before and didn't really know what it was like on the surface.

      So, they planned for the worst case environment on Mars and found things more hospitable. Lucky us.
    • Keep in mind that the launch cost is the most expensive part of the mission. These rovers cost a lot less than the hardware they fly on, so it makes sense to overengineer them. Sure you could leave out backup systems A through D, but that will only save $10 to $20,000 on a $.5 million+ project. What's the point? You may as well take all the precautions possible to keep your hardware going once it gets there.
    • Does anyone know what the expected failure mode of the rovers was supposed to be after three months?

      Perhaps they were not so much "over-engineered" as much as conditions just weren't as harsh as were expected. There is a subtle difference. Like say the Martian dust was not quite as plentiful, sticky, or abrasive as engineers were led to believe. That certain items would be built more robust than necessary in this case is due to poor specifications rather than overzealous engineering.

      Or perhaps NASA is

      • Martian dust caking on the solar panels.
        • There were other failure modes as well. (dust and batteries were to be the methods of failure that would kill them for sure in a fixed length of time)

          1) dust
          2) batteries not maintaining a charge
          3) Cold cracking circuit boards/frezing batteries at night
          4) not enough power in the mars winter to keep from waking in safe mode each morning
          5) accedents (getting stuck)
          6) Some other mechanical failure
          7) landing somewhere trapped or unable to get off the pad.

          This is what I recall from reading articles about the pro
    • The expense is getting them there and the teams monitoring them. The cost of the robot is trivial, hence the over-engineering.
    • The major cost is not the cost of the rover, but the vehicle that gets you
      there. They are over engineered because they don't want it to break
      down during the first 30 days and waste the mamoth cost of getting
      them there in the first place.
    • The rovers weren't overengineered, they were underestimated. In business it's called under promising and over delivering. It doesn't make any sense to build a Mars rover to last three months or even a year when most of the cost is getting there, not designing or building the rover.
    • I think it's good when we engineers overdesign stuff. Take the Brooklyn Bridge for example. It was designed and built before car traffic existed. The steel in the cables is only 1/2 as strong as it was supposed to be, and it's still like 4 times strong than it needs to be with modern car and truck traffic! Quite a feat!
    • by squoozer (730327) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:02PM (#13882063)

      They aren't over engineered for the environment they were expected to operate in. Our understanding of the martian environment led the engineers to believe that the solar panels would become dirty quickly. I'm sure cleaning systems were considered but a desision was made to have rovers that lasted 3 months without a cleaning machanism. Turns out we didn't understand the martian environment all that well and wind is keeping the panels clean enough to power the rovers. That's just shear luck.

      As for the other parts of the rovers out lasting their usefulness - well that just goes to show how good some areas of engineering have become. Yes they could probably have fitted wheel bearings that would seize after 3 months but as they would weigh the same as (or damn near) the ones that have lasted 2 years a desision was made to fit the better bearings. There will always be one weakest component in this case our best guess at what is was was wrong. I'd be interested to know what part eventually fails and kills the rovers. If nothing else this is an interesting experiment into long term rover deployment. I am sure the engineers are getting plenty of interesting telemetry back on what is failing on the rovers.

  • Why not more? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EriktheGreen (660160) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:54AM (#13881298) Journal
    So, why aren't we applauding these things louder, and mass producing twenty or thirty more? They're a raging success, a proven concept, and surely cheaper than developing a completely new exploration system for other worlds. We should take the plans and use them to build an army of rovers for mars, then put an equal number on the moon... we could explore the moon from laboratories, universities, offices and homes on earth directly.

    Oh, that's right... NASA's main purpose isn't exploration or science, it's to preserve its own existence. New projects mean new money, and old sucesses are only good for arguing for more funding for new toys.

    Erik

    • I wonder how well they would work out on the moon. On one hand, there should be less airborne dust - there's no air. On the other hand, the dust it kicks up will be more likely to end up on the panel - no air (to speak of) getting in the way and slowing it down, and nothing to blow it off.
      • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:08AM (#13881466)
        and nothing to blow it off

        Slant the panels and build in a small vibrator.

        Man, this all sounds oddly offensive. ;-)

      • The "Moonies" would dust it off. Didn't you see them when Wallace and Grommit visited to get some Cheese?
      • Good point. Plus, the moon dust is very fine and almost "corrosive" in its action.
        Now, disregarding these features, and just concentrating on how to avoid having the solar panels opaqued: maybe an electric field could keep the dust away. An electric field, even a strong one, in the absence of any gas to speak of, could be very energetically cheap to maintain.

        Mechanical wipers are probably out of the question, due to the abrasive nature of the dust.
      • Re:Why not more? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Somegeek (624100)
        Our moon also has the two weeks of chilly night thing, I don't think this rover design would survive that.
    • You are being very cynical. I honestly think that NASA's future WILL include robotic exploration of the moon and Mars (moreso than now). But it would be foolhardy to send the same rovers in mass quantities. These things are not like consumer electronics. There have been lessons learned in fielding these robots and those lessons need to be rolled-up in a future iteration.

      As for saying that universities/offices/homes could be driving the rovers around. Well that is daft. The moon is not some big RC ra
    • "NASA's main purpose isn't exploration or science, it's to preserve its own existence."

      Well, duh, it's a government agency.

      That's a primary purpose of all governments -- to preserve their own existence.

      Not to say that government agencies, and governments in general, can't do things that are in the public good. On the individual level, people in government are often motivated by partially (even sometimes mostly!) altruistic reasons. But there are finite resources to be had, so on the institutional l
    • Re:Why not more? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mbrod (19122)
      This is the same question I keep asking since the rovers success. I would have thought with the plans they had, you could mass produce them and save a lot on costs. Then send an army of them to mars or the moon. Students at various universities and even amateur scientists could help with planning or requests for various places to search.

      Instead they came up with the idea that we should switch to manned missions again and it will take 10-20 years.

      The robots are already can already do alot of the exploring fo
    • In addition to the other issues, it takes a large team of people at NASA to use each rover. If they had another 20-30, the manpower allocation to driving these things around would be impractical. On the other hand, the DARPA Granc Challenge was actually completed this year, so it's possible that they'll be doing rovers that can drive themselves around before too long, which will be much more efficient in terms of support staff.

      Of course, the success of the rover program doesn't just mean that the rovers are
    • Re:Why not more? (Score:3, Interesting)

      When the boss(es) tell you to piss away all your money on a PR, corporate welfare (aka contributions), and jobs (aka votes) project instead of science, that's what you do. NASA doesn't have any choice in the matter. I suspect a lot of people at NASA would rather do science, but it really isn't up to them.
  • Testament to JPL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sierpinski (266120) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:55AM (#13881304)
    I think this is a testament to the folks at the JPL. Those rovers have lasted way longer than anyone expected, and probably hoped. In the early stages of the project, I heard a lot of criticism from the standard armchair astronauts saying about how they could get so much more done if they didn't go 'so damn slow' all the time. I've read about times where haste would have probably halted the program in its steps, like when there was concern about traversing the side wall of a crater, worried that the rover would tip. Its a testament to their planning, skill in design and execution of their plan, and of their patience in their procedures.

    Good work JPL!
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:55AM (#13881312)
    I dunno , some robots , just no consideration for those left on earth.
  • Hats off (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GroeFaZ (850443) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:57AM (#13881337)
    to the guys responsible for the whole mission, from cleaners to engineers to management. Surpassing a mission duration by at least 700% (*knock on wood*) is a nice change from all the missions Mars has claimed so far.
  • Gustav Crater? (Score:5, Informative)

    by utexaspunk (527541) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @10:57AM (#13881346)
    It's called Gusev crater [nasa.gov].
  • by KSobby (833882)
    Can you really tell the difference between all of the photos that are released by the little dudes? I think NASA is photoshoping and then releasing the same photos every so often, saying it is really a new place on Mars. It's a giant conspiracy I tell ya.

    But seriously, Way to go little dudes. You have more energy than me. I get bored by my second bowl of cereal let alone doing the same thing for months on end.

  • Does anyone have any information on how exactly these Rovers are powered? When the Rovers exceeded expectations by a couple of months, I was under the impression the end was nigh due to inevitably failing power supplies. But now it's been a couple of years and the things still have juice. What gives?

    • Re:Any ideas? (Score:4, Informative)

      by stickytar (96286) <joseph_swenson@hotmail.com> on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:14AM (#13881543)
      These babies are solar powered and NASA figured that dust from the atmosphere would render the solar panels useless after two months. The wind kept pushing the dust off the panels so.. there they go again.

      • These babies are solar powered and NASA figured that dust from the atmosphere would render the solar panels useless after two months. The wind kept pushing the dust off the panels so.. there they go again.

        Damn, I thought the solar panels provided partial recovery so as to extend mission life; this is great stuff.

    • The power is via solar panels, but there's no way to clean them - once they get coated in enough muck that you can't get useful power out of them then that's it. I think they were surprised by how much the wind acted to blow the dust off, or something like that.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @11:11AM (#13881509) Homepage Journal
    "Rovers that won't quit"? Is it really Fitzmas [yahoo.com] already?
  • by sizzzzlerz (714878)

    Rover's Daily Schedule

    1. Wake up at 5 in the morning (Standard Mars Time)
    2. Warm up the wheels and top off the batteries
    3. Take a few pictures of some nearby rocks
    4. Move 50 feet in some arbitrary direction
    5. Take a few pictures of some more nearby rocks
    6. Talk to Earth
    7. Shut down at 5 in the afternoon (SMT)
    8. Repeat
  • contest (Score:2, Interesting)

    I wonder how much better a job would have been done if something like this were handled "x prize" style.

    Take all of the money in the budget for the project, and offer it as a prize to the first person to accomplish all of the goals.

  • I don't remember how I stumbled upon this, but this is a great link for updates on the rovers.

    Cornell/Athena Updates (Pops) [cornell.edu]

  • by Thunderstruck (210399) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:00PM (#13882048)
    1. To keep the funding flowing, or to encourage space exploration by private enterprise, the rovers simply need to find some gold.

    2. Now that we have the technology worked out to make a hardy, long lasting rover, can we do something about the cosmetics? Who are we kidding. These things are Imperial Probe Droids and should look the part.
  • And he tells me that they have funding till end of next September for the rovers.
  • maestro (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VStrider (787148) <giannis_mz@yahoo ... minus physicist> on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:09PM (#13882140)
    I just found out about maestro [66.102.9.104](Google cache) It's basically the software NASA uses to control the rovers and process their datasets. Looks quite interesting. I'm getting the datasets as I type this.(200MB)

    If you're on gentoo,
    emerge maestro maestro-data
    If not, check your distro repos or get it from here [sun.com].
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:19PM (#13882240)
    The first year was kind of exciting beacuase everything they were finding was new. However Spirit is pretty much just seeing the same slightly altered basalt rocks on Sol 600 as it was on Sol 10, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500.
    Ditto for Opportunity. It found those hematite blueberries and sulfur-rich layered rocks in the first crater, then saw them again in the next five craters its visited.

    Some of the other things were interesting too- the dust devil movies, eclipses of Martian moons and so on.
    • Actually, since Spirit hit the hills, the rocks are vastly different then those out on the plains. And Opportunity has just recently reached a strata that is newer and has -no- 'blueberries' in it at all (though they are in the wind-blown dunes).
    • by ab762 (138582)
      Finding that the same stuff is seen across a modest locality is important, since it rules out explanations that would produce those things in only very small areas.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @12:23PM (#13882265)
    One Martian year is 669 Martian days (Sols) or 686 Earth days, or a little under two earth years. Sol 669 is around Nov 18. Happy birthday Spirit.
  • by matt me (850665) on Wednesday October 26, 2005 @01:39PM (#13882967)
    If NASA run out of tasks for the rovers, they could always send them to find Beagle 2.

"Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never." -- Winston Churchill

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