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Mars Space Science

Mars Rover's Epic Trek For the Crater Endeavor 145

Posted by timothy
from the endeavor-endeavor dept.
Smivs writes "The BBC reports that NASA is to send its Mars rover Opportunity on a two-year trek to try to reach a crater called Endeavour. The robot will have to move about 11km to get to its new target — a distance that would double what it has already achieved on the planet. Endeavour is much bigger than anything investigated to date, and will allow a broader range of rocks to be studied. Detailed satellite imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will help pick out the best route ahead; and new software recently uploaded to Opportunity will enable the rover to make its own decisions about how best to negotiate large rocks in its path. Opportunity has just emerged from the 800m-wide Victoria Crater. Endeavour, by comparison, is 22km across."
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Mars Rover's Epic Trek For the Crater Endeavor

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  • 11 km (Score:5, Funny)

    by adpsimpson (956630) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:16AM (#25118459)

    That's about 11,000 inches, right? Shouldn't take that long.

    • Re:11 km (Score:5, Funny)

      by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:41AM (#25118699) Journal
      It's 11 km om Mars, so we should use astronomical units: almost 360 femtoparsecs.
    • Not quite. It's actually around 55 furlongs, or 2200 rods (give or take a fathom or two).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by arielCo (995647)
      That's 100.248 football fields [google.com] in PopSci units :)
    • Re:11 km (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SenseiLeNoir (699164) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @12:02PM (#25121791)

      I did smile at the joke, but I still have a lot of admiration for NASA. I am a brit, and yes I was disappointed when the Beagle 2 probe was lost.

      However, I still remember as a kid, I used to be awed with NASA, and its space shuttle launches, etc. As a child it was what I associated America with: space, advancing to new frontiers, etc, and NASA usually was the center of my aspirations. I used to dream of being on a Shuttle, and often felt jealous (in a positive way) for what our friends across the pond was up to.

      In recent years, and recent news, which unfortunately put the USA in a poor light amongst some, NASA with their exploits brought back some memories about why I aspired towards America; that "can do attitude".

      Sure they have messed up, at times. but space exploration is like that. Their successes usually are just as great.

      These rovers were built to run for 3 months. They are running for on their fifth year now. Absolutely amazing!

      The official reason of how they underestimated the abilities for the wind to clean the sensors, may be correct, but in this day and age, where items are engineered to last their intended lifespan, whoever designed these things still didnt "cheap out" on the rest of the vehicle.

      These are not cheap little radio controlled dune buggy models for use on earth, but self maintaining vehicles that for nearly 5 years have operated in a hostile, largely unknown environment with no physical attention!

      So hats off to NASA and JPL. And god speed on the new mission. And thanks for giving this older man a thing something to smile about in these times of drab news.

    • Re:11 km (Score:4, Funny)

      by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @12:22PM (#25122249) Journal

      It's an estimate right now. They're not sure where the Endeavor crater will actually be. Once Atlantis does the rescue mission Endeavor will be redirected to mars in order to create it's crater.

  • Amazing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Amiralul (1164423) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:19AM (#25118507) Homepage
    Godspeed, Opportunity!
    Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Amiralul (1164423)

      Godspeed, Opportunity! Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

      Oops, read that "4th year", my apologies.

    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

      by ArcherB (796902) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:25AM (#25118571) Journal

      Godspeed, Opportunity!

      Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

      So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!

      I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual.

      KIRK: Mr. Scott. Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?

      SCOTTY: Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mlush (620447)

        So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!

        I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual.

        Its both as I understand it the big win was the martian wind kept the solar panels cleaner than expected, it was dust build up (and thus power loss) that was expected to kill the mssion

        • What? Scotty was such a good engineer because he was kept free of dust by the wind?
        • by erroneus (253617)

          I have to wonder why they didn't consider building some sort of windshield wiper for the solar panels onto the machine? If they expected dust to kill the power efficiency, wouldn't an arm with a brush sweeping over the surface of the panels work to resolve that?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by GeordieMac (1010817)
            actually a better mechanism would be to use compressed atmosphere to blast the dust away. Wipers have more points of failure and would likely abrade the surface of the solar panels, permanently reducing the efficiency fo the cells.
          • by ctetc007 (875050)

            Compressor + storage = weight + power drain

            Same goes for the wiper idea too. Adding any kind of cleaning mechanism adds more weight, and I'm guessing a trade study done on this deemed the estimated extended life to not be worth the added weight (fewer scientific tools).
            It's also not a good idea to count on the Martian wind being there either, because what happens if you get unlucky and are in an area of doldrums? The best course of action is to plan for the worst (3 month mission), but have the capability to continue on if you get a good windfal

      • "So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!
        I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual."

        No. What's happend is that they asked the engineers to design something that has a 99.99% chance of working for 90 days. They did that. But as a side effect the device has a 85% chance of lasting 180 days and a 70% chance of one year and 50% on two years and so on. My numbers are not right but you get the idea.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!

        Long story short, we thought their power supply would deteriorate but in practise it's stable. It's sorta like thinking you will have to run your laptop on batteries, then realizing you have a AC connection and wonder of wonders, it stays working for years instead of hours. Would the laptop be "overachieving" by many orders of magnitude? Were the goals set "WAY too low" for the laptop? Or are the assumptions are so fundamentally altered that it's meaningless to talk about it's battery performance? That we a

      • by jafac (1449)

        Scotty's repair estimates included:
        Requirements elicitation and valiation,
        Design,
        Documentation,
        Review,
        Test development,
        Development/Engineering,
        Test validation and review,
        User documentation,
        Deployment,
        Testing.

        Kirk was always happy to cut corners.

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:22AM (#25118545)

    Opportunity saw its first electrical spike in one of its motors recently - the same problem that has basically crippled Spirit.

    This was described (8 paragraphs down) in this press release [nasa.gov]. That's why they got out of Victoria Crater post haste.

    Of course, the terrain in Meridiani Planum is much more navigable than Gustav Crater, so even if they do lose a motor, they may still be able to make progress.

    • by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @09:54AM (#25119597)
      This is a suicide mission, NASA wanted to shut down the rovers years ago, and the public outcry repeatedly stopped it. Now, if the rover goes on a 2 year drive and dies, what a poor little heroic guy, finally succumbed to the elements.
      And NASA gets to free all the funds to build newer and bigger and better and ...
      Don't forget, these are the guys that canceled the last Apollo missions for the fuel bill; they already had the rockets, trained astronauts and everything else in place.
      • by mbone (558574)

        I distinctly remember Congress canceling the last Apollo mission (Apollo 18), by not giving NASA the money. This was indeed deep in the planning stages, intended for some volcanic domes near the Marius crater IIRC.

      • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @10:28AM (#25120143)

        Oh, and given that there was never any plans to get the rovers back, this was always a "suicide" mission.

        But you are right, JPL will keep running these until they physically fail.

      • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @10:40AM (#25120355)

        Don't forget, these are the guys that canceled the last Apollo missions for the fuel bill; they already had the rockets, trained astronauts and everything else in place.

        And the money to pay the army that would be needed to build and run the missions. Ending Saturn was a good move. The rocket was too expensive. Replacing it with the Space Shuttle though was one of the worst mistakes NASA ever did.

      • by ctetc007 (875050) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @01:03PM (#25123065) Homepage
        It may be true that this specific mission seems a bit suicidal, but what else are you going to do with it? Nothing? The rover was meant to run until it died, and this seems like as good a cause to die for as any.

        The rover isn't just going on a boring 2 year long road trip, it's also exploring the rocks and terrain along the way. Even if it doesn't reach its destination, the trek will still be of scientific value.
      • This is a suicide mission, NASA wanted to shut down the rovers years ago, and the public outcry repeatedly stopped it.

        Huh? [[Citation Needed]]

        Now, if the rover goes on a 2 year drive and dies, what a poor little heroic guy, finally succumbed to the elements.
        And NASA gets to free all the funds to build newer and bigger and better and ...

        As above, huh? NASA is already building a bigger, better rover [wikipedia.org], one that's just under a year from launch

        Don't forget, these are the guys tha

        • Huh? [[Citation Needed]]

          http://www.universetoday.com/2008/03/25/nasa-u-turn-over-mars-rover-funding/ [universetoday.com]

          already building a bigger, better rover [wikipedia.org], one that's just under a year from launch

          I know, I worked on it for 4 years

          • The problem is, your cite doesn't support your claim. Not only is there no evidence that NASA wanted to shut it down (the act in question being an unsupported act by a mid grade administrator), there is no evidence that public outcry had any effect on the outcome. Nor does it support the claim that this happened repeatedly. Nor does it support the claim that it was to done so NASA could build a better rover - as that process was already in progress regardless of what happened to the MER program.

            In short,

  • studying ... rocks!

    ok, maybe only studying ... rocks ... rocks.

    If you get an ... opportunity.

    Allright I stop, I'm killing myself.

  • Wasn't Opporunity half-designed by kids as well? Props to NASA for getting our money's worth out of this thing. Talk about the little engine that could.
    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      Wasn't Opporunity half-designed by kids as well?

      I think it's a bit discourteous to the scientists and engineers who actually designed this rover to say that, no matter what sort of programs NASA folks may have created for educational purposes.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @08:47AM (#25118757) Journal

    A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle. And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments. And let's not forget that in those 2 years, the rover has a very high likelihood to break down.

    So while human exploration of Mars may be expensive, it is probably much cheaper when comparing results.

    I know the /. crowd has a strong, somewhat irrational animosity towards manned exploration. So I'll burn some karma, big deal :o)

    • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @09:02AM (#25118923)

      irrational animosity towards manned exploration

      Leaving aside - for now - the part where a human mission to Mars is almost certainly a suicide mission, if you want to make the case that other people are irrational your best bet is probably to present your own rational ideas for a fully-costed human mission, including all the associated life-support requirements both in transit and once on the surface.

      Then we can compare your ideas against the cost of the Spirit and Opportunity missions

    • by Alioth (221270)

      It does? I've observed quite the opposite: most of Slashdot is very gung-ho about meaningful manned exploration. The only animosity I've seen regularly expressed is towards the Shuttle and ISS.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @09:41AM (#25119397) Homepage

      A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle. And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments. And let's not forget that in those 2 years, the rover has a very high likelihood to break down.

      Well, we'd never have been able to put people there nearly as cheaply, or for nearly as long. We haven't solved the problems of getting people in space for long enough for the journey, keeping them alive, feeding them, and having them inhabit the surface of a strange planet without any real support.

      The rovers have been absolute bargain in terms of the cost for the science achieved. And, they give us a lot of the basic information we need to know if we're ever going to put humans there. The value vs cost of the these rovers is not something you can characterize as expensive for what we get -- the initial mission was, what $300 million or so?

      I think until we can overcome an incredible amount of technical hurdles, the rovers are still a good idea. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to develop some of the stuff we'll need for manned missions. Likely we'll need to work on some closer missions and return to the moon before we try to get to Mars in my opinion -- that'll at least let us try to sort out the really big challenges.

      Cheers

      • You can argue that people could have done the job better but that is like saying I could get to work fater in a flying car or a jet pack. The problemm is that we simply don't have the means to send people to mars. Given the current state of the art they'd likey never survive the trip.

        AN then you have the little problem of getting off of Mars. What you need is a rocket on Mars that can lift off and travel to Earth. Here on Earth we have huge infrastucture in place to launch rockets, we'd have to fly a l

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          You can argue that people could have done the job better

          But, I didn't argue that.

          I don't think we have the technology to even try that, and I think we're better off trying to put people on the surface of the Moon again and try to stay there longer.

          Other than the sheer coolness factor, I'm not sure what sending people to Mars does for us, other than saying we did it and risking killing whoever we send.

          For Mars, I say we stick with rovers and orbiters for now. I don't think we should stop trying to have mann

      • by Kjella (173770)

        I think until we can overcome an incredible amount of technical hurdles, the rovers are still a good idea. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to develop some of the stuff we'll need for manned missions. Likely we'll need to work on some closer missions and return to the moon before we try to get to Mars in my opinion -- that'll at least let us try to sort out the really big challenges.

        One of the "problems" of going to the moon is that unless we add extra hurdles for itself, it's so short the dominant solution would be to just pack up enough consumables for the trip and avoid solving any of the really hard issues. We might be just as well off taking a Mars mission prototype, send it up in earth orbit and pretend they're on their way to Mars and see how months and months of self-containment works out. Another dry run we could make is sending a craft down on Mars to be launched back up into

    • by delt0r (999393)
      Try breathing the martin atmosphere and weighing only a few dozen kgs and eat nothing but sunsine below zero. We haven't even started with how you got there.

      Soft humans are not as well adapted to space and mars as you seem to think.
    • even if he managed earth walking speeds of 4kmph it would take him 2.7 hours to get there, so he would have under 4 hours to do his stuff before he had to turn around and go home before his oxygen ran out. If he had a vehicle to ride there in, why not just turn that into a big rover instead?
      • by khallow (566160)
        Because a driver in the cab can control a rover better than a driver on Earth. A several minute round trip is a long time when you're driving.
        • If a bunch of random nerds in the DARPA challenge can make a car drive itself so can NASA.
        • by Dannkape (1195229)
          ...which is why the rovers already there can do quite a bit of steering themselves, and I guess they would stop and wait for instructions if they encountered anything too complicated.
          • by khallow (566160)
            So what? Even ignoring the fact that it's not as good, you still need humans to control what the rover does. And that control is more effective when the human is nearby rather than several minutes away on another planet.
            • Is it really worth all those hundreds of billions to send a human to Mars just so a rover can avoid stopping to wait for instructions for a few minutes?
              • by khallow (566160)
                If it's hundreds of billions, then no it isn't worth it. If it's a few billion, then it probably is worth it. And if it's a few hundred million, it definitely is worth it.
    • by grumbel (592662)

      And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments.

      Yeah, except that you could send around 2500 rowers to mars for the price of a human mars misson. Have some doubt that a small human team can perform better then those.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by KeensMustard (655606)

      A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle.

      You've inadvertently demonstrated the stupidity of your own argument there. If the point is to "travel faster" and vehicles travel faster then humans, why not send a vehicle? And if we have the vehicle, what's the human for? After all, it's not the 1960s. Vehicles don't need humans to steer them.

      And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments.

      Rubbish. The fact of the matter is, we would get better quality results form observing mars from orbit then from a human on the ground. Any human observation/probing/experiments on Mars will be entirely reliant on i

      • You've inadvertently demonstrated the stupidity of your own argument there. If the point is to "travel faster" and vehicles travel faster then humans, why not send a vehicle? And if we have the vehicle, what's the human for? After all, it's not the 1960s. Vehicles don't need humans to steer them.

        Talk about stupidity! Do you have any idea why does it take years for the rovers to negotiate just a few kilometers? It has nothing to do with the speed of the vehicle - and everything to do with the problems of rem

    • by 2short (466733)
      "A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle. And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments"

      Tell them to get on with it then. They've got massively more funding than robotic exploration, and they are trying to keep their toilet working in LEO.

      "So while human exploration of Mars may be expensive, it is probably much cheaper when comparing results."

      Direct human exploration of Mars doesn't have any results. Human exploration of mars
  • Mars: the newest frontier.
    These are the voyages of the rover Opportunity.
    Its two-year mission: to explore strange new craters; to seek out new life and new land formations;
    to boldly go where no robot has gone before!
  • by kanweg (771128)

    "new software recently uploaded to Opportunity will enable the rover to make its own decisions about how best to negotiate large rocks in its path"

    What is the origin of that? I can speculate:
    1) English origin: Very polite. You just don't go around the corner, you politely ask under what conditions it is allowed. "I beg your pardon, dear corner. Would it be inconvenient to you if we continue our way as indicated by you?
    2) American origin: Don't take anything for granted. You may be sued by a corner before yo

    • by mbone (558574)

      What is the origin of that?

      Pretty common usage in context (e.g., navigation). See the 4th entry in Dictionary.com [reference.com] :

      to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner:

  • to endeavor unto endeavor.

  • Both candidates say they are going to slash budget. When NASA's is cut, they'll dump their older projects.
  • I think they should make a point of taking a full panoramic image every 10m or so. That way we can add that to the current data on mars and create a *really* nice VR version of that area. Being able to "walk" the same path as Opportunity in VR seems like it is a worthy PR and artistic goal and certainly wouldn't hurt the science of the mission either.
  • Wow, Mars rovers use Gentoo! :p

    *tomato*

  • They should give the next one wings or a para-sail or something.
  • Bum Wheel? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @10:23PM (#25130447) Homepage Journal

    I thought Opportunity was due to have a bum wheel, like that of Spirit. They've discovered voltage spike patterns that match that of Spirit's wheel before it croaked. This would suggest that Oppy can only go about another mile before the wheel gives. While flat territory may not be a signif problem, Oppy has had problems getting stuck in sand dunes in its area even with good wheels. Getting out of sand traps with a stuck wheel is going to be an interesting challenge.

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