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NASA Mars Space Science

NASA Mars Rovers Hit 5-Year Anniversary 147

Posted by Soulskill
from the exceeding-expectation dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA's Mars rovers have been on the red planet for five years now. The rovers were originally planned to stay operational on the planet for only 90 days, but it has turned into a much longer mission than anticipated. NASA has put together a video to celebrate the anniversary. The rovers have made important discoveries about wet and violent environments on ancient Mars. They also have returned a quarter-million images, driven more than 21 kilometers (13 miles), climbed a mountain, descended into craters, struggled with sand traps and aging hardware, survived dust storms, and relayed more than 36 gigabytes of data via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. To date, the rovers remain operational for new campaigns the team has planned for them."
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NASA Mars Rovers Hit 5-Year Anniversary

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  • Fascinating (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JackassJedi (1263412) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:14PM (#26312329)
    It's still so unbelievable to me that we actually have a satellite and stationary vehicles on another planet and are using them to do stuff there. If you really think about this for a moment in terms of what has to be accomplished for this to work it's just mind-blowing.
  • by curmudgeon99 (1040054) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:18PM (#26312351)
    This is a perfect example of the best that America has to offer. The people who built these rovers obviously knew they only needed to last 90 days yet obviously they built them to last as long as possible. This makes me proud to be a member of the most advanced country on earth, even setting aside the misguided leadership we've endured for 8 years and are about to be liberated from.
  • by Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:22PM (#26312385)

    This is a perfect example of the best that America has to offer.

    The people who built these rovers were not all "American."

  • by Murphy(c) (41125) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:32PM (#26312435)

    5 Years on an other planet, think about it.
    Imagine the amount of food, water, O2 and energy that would have been required if they had sent humans instead of machines.

    Never mind the fact that they extended the original mission by more than 2000% and the fact that they never needed resupply missions.

    When you read the mission reports for the ISS and see that they need a two man crew just to keep stuff from breaking too badly, it's hard to imagine the size of the crew that would be needed for a 5 year mission to Mars.

    Yet one of the two (ISS vs Mars rovers), has a budget at least one order of magnitude larger than the other and has yet to produce any real science (unless teeing off a gold plated golf ball from the ISS [latimes.com] is ones idea of science)

    Murphy(c)

  • Worth the money (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @01:57PM (#26312609)

    The value of this should be pressed to the bean counters. They will ultimately expound at length on how it could have been cheaper and better to only get the 3 months worth of value expected. But at the same time, spending what they did and getting 20 times as much value for the money makes the mission far more worth while, and shows the true value of those who designed the hardware. Kudos to those who did. Getting a car to go 2 million miles instead of 100,000 (without service) is not a feat many can accomplish. Basically what it means is that everyone got everything right. Very very right. Engineering was outstanding, execution perfect. Kudos.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:07PM (#26312671)

    BTW - a lot of the designers would resent to be called 'American'

    Obviously you have never been to a NASA facility.

  • by Biff Stu (654099) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:20PM (#26312751)

    People have been talking about manufacturing in orbit for decades. Instead, manufacturing moved to China. The motivation for the move to East Asia mirrors the reason why space manufacturing remains just talk. If you consider the overhead and transportation costs of manufacturing in orbit, it makes unionized factories in the US and Europe look dirt cheap.

  • Re:Cost per MB? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dotancohen (1015143) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:21PM (#26312767) Homepage

    How much more data does the lander need to send before the total mission cost is cheaper on a per MB basis than sending txt messages to your BFF?

    It already is.

  • by jcaplan (56979) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:21PM (#26312775) Journal
    Greatly agreed. Our unmanned program has been such an astounding success.

    What I don't get is the benefit of adding a human to these missions. They are ill suited to the environment and require all sorts of extra equipment to keep alive during the voyage and on the planet. Worse, they have to be shipped back to earth intact. Their value is so high that heavy expensive multiply redundant systems have to be built to ensure their safety.

    I do get the benefit of having a device that can make decisions without up to two hours lag time, but the investment might be better spent on a bit of navigation software rather than transporting wetware.

    -Jon
  • by daigu (111684) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:22PM (#26312783) Journal

    Perhaps part of the ISS science is figuring out the engineering and logistical problems of how human's can live for extended periods in space, which is a much harder problem. I'd say getting something so big into orbit, operational and supporting an onboard crew for more than 8 years is a significant accomplishment.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:45PM (#26313001) Homepage
    As an American I am proud of what we've done but I'm also proud of the work the non-Americans have done to help us achieve what we wanted.

    And in fact I think it goes to show we'd achieve a load more if we could unite and combine our strengths, like Voltron, rather than fight each other. Unfortunately that goes against our instinct and a global economy scares to religious freaks who believe that will bring on the end of the world.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:47PM (#26313013)

    This is a perfect example of the best that America has to offer.

    The people who built these rovers were not all "American."

    This is a perfect example of the best that America has to offer.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:56PM (#26313089) Homepage

    How many rovers could you have send to Mars for the price of a human mission? Around a thousand or so I think, puts things into perspective.

  • by benevixit (754447) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @02:59PM (#26313115)
    Point taken, but if science is our goal then our performance metric should be discoveries achieved per dollar spent.

    The Mars Exploration Rover mission cost less than $1 billion total. In contemporary dollars the Apollo program cost $150-200 billion (and going to Mars would be WAY tougher than the Moon). Imagine - the price of a human mission we could fill the solar system with squadrons of rovers. The numbers are rough, but they suggest that we can get more science for our buck with robots.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

    by couchslug (175151) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:24PM (#26313299)

    Imagine how much more we could have accomplished by using robot probes instead of wasting money on primitive systems like the Space Shuttle. We could send robot after robot after robot and leave the tourists at home for a few decades.

  • Wonderful (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colourspace (563895) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:32PM (#26313829)
    And absolutely beautiful. In the current times we are all living in, Spirit and Opportunity remind us of what mankind can acheive, when we put our mind to it, and also how lucky we can be, unexpectedly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @05:42PM (#26314321)

    If we're comparing things straight across, humans would have been out of action in several minutes, still leaving the rovers the advantage. Most of that several minutes probably wouldn't have been doing science either.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @11:14PM (#26316661) Homepage Journal

    I've been reading about Spirit of late, and it seems like its last days are near. It's so dusty that it can probably only do decent roving in the summer, and will also not have enough power to survive the winter.

    It's busted wheel makes it difficult to find and move to a solar-panel-friendly high-tilt area that is near exploration areas. Thus, if it wonders off too far, it cannot get back to a safe spot fast enough to survive the cold or surprise dust storms, which block light. It almost hit the limit during a recent dust storm about 2 months ago.

    They may just send it off to explore and say, "screw the winter and dust storms; if it ends it ends." This probably depends on whether they can find good targets without going far.

    It could get lucky and get another whirlwind cleaning, though. These things have 9 lives, I swear.
           

  • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kjella (173770) on Sunday January 04, 2009 @12:08AM (#26317109) Homepage

    In a way you're right, but it's also a bit like "Well, I haven't actually been to Africa but I saw a documentary on National Geographic. Gee, how much money I saved." I really doubt JFK would have gotten the same effect if he promised to send a lump of electronics to the Moon and back either. Part of the reason Mars is so interesting is exactly because it's fairly Earth-like, and why would we care about that if only robots would ever go there? I can't speak for anyone else but I want humans in space.

    I think establishment of a permanent colony outside Earth would be pretty much the greatest achivement in human history ever. For that we need three things:
    1) The ability to bring fragile little meatbags from Earth to Mars
    2) The ability for fragile little meatbags to survive on Mars
    3) The ability to mostly support itself without supplies from Earth

    Obviously, we're well short on 3) but certainly we could get some experience on 1) and 2) with a manned Mars mission. A lot fo people seem to think "Well, we did that on the Moon so what's the big deal sending guys to sit in a bunker and eat canned food?" Well we've never done it. Not going to for a while either, it seems. But if we stopped with manned flight, how much would it take to revive it? Like if we wanted to return to the moon we wouldn't break out a few Apollo rockets from storage, we'd have to start over.

    NASA didn't pick a "primitive system" on purpose, they picked what looked like the best choice at the time. Like pretty much everything else you do of early experimentation it probably wasn't the best one. That's how you learn, how you build better crafts, after all if you can't reasonably keep people healthy and alive in near orbit you sure aren't going to make it out to Mars. How about some experience in orbital construction like the ISS? After all, a Mars launcher might be built in space from modules. In short, what you call "space tourist" is what I call "Our home base on the outskirts of Earth's gravity well." We're going to want people up there if we ever want to get anywhere further.

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