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Mars NASA Robotics Space

Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars 160

Posted by timothy
from the it's-covered-in-jam dept.
cheros writes "NASA reports that the Spirit Mars lander is presently stuck in soft soil. The lander's wheels are halfway sunk into the soil and they are planning simulation tests to see if they can get it out again. I hope they can get it out of there because it's picking up enough new energy to operate; however, it only has 5 wheels left to get around on — one of the wheels hasn't been working for years. Fingers crossed."
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Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars

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  • by confused one (671304) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:22AM (#27920807)
    Time to call AAA...
    • by Megane (129182) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:52AM (#27921189) Homepage
      Alien Automobile Association?
    • by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:54AM (#27921217) Homepage Journal

      They should get Opportunity to come by and fire it's grappling hook to tow it out with its winch.

      What?!?! We launched a bunch of space robots to an unknown, rocky terrain without a grappling hook and winch?

      They probably didn't include the lasers either. Good thing the people that carved the face are long dead.

    • No, they just need to get a New Englander (well, one of the ones that knows how to drive) to get it unstuck. We have lots of experience getting stuck in deep snow.

      Disable the traction control and rock it back and forth. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dreamt (14798)

        I don't know that I have ever met a native New Englander that has any idea how to drive (especially in the snow)! At least nowhere near Boston.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by omris (1211900)

          Boston is full of college kids, who are probably not New Englanders. And all of the natives around them have now evolved the most aggressively defensive driving style ever imagined to protect themselves. Not a good sample pool.

          Look at Maine.

          Or someplace that gets a lot of lake effect snow.

          Here in Rhode Island, people are terrified of snow. If they predict snow, all of a sudden there is no milk or bread in any store in the state. This always baffled me. Bread, ok. But WHY would you buy milk when there

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by crashumbc (1221174)

            This always baffled me. Bread, ok. But WHY would you buy milk when there could be severe weather. If you're trapped in your house, your power will likely go out, and now you have a new gallon of spoiled milk.

            yeah it's not like its COLD outside or anything...

            • by omris (1211900)

              They do this for EVERY storm. Tropical storm, hurricane, half inch of snow. And it's not like people need ten times the normal quantity of milk. Honestly, the shelves will be literally bare.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                I think you're not understanding things. People don't want to drive or are worried about being able to buy during/after a storm as someone mentioned earlier.

                The problem isn't that people are buying 10x more milk, it's that 10x more people came into the store. Or whatever the multiple is.

                When there's a storm more people will go shopping in the day before the storm than after the storm. The market gets products delivered daily and sells it slowly throughout the week but when there's a rush to get emergency pr

                • by omris (1211900)

                  No no, I understand. But they do not buy ANYTHING else. They don't run low on anything in the store other than milk and bread. It's a strange Rhode Island phenomenon. Even the news casters have joked about it ("might be mildly bad weather... better go out now to beat the milk and bread rush"). I blame the elderly. We have too many.

                  • IT's not just in your area. Milk and bread (as well as eggs, fruits and vegetables) are usually things that sell out fastest in most areas when there is an event that might keep people from going shopping.

                    Milk and bread are staples that almost everyone reading this has in their home.

                    They are also perishable so you're not likely to have a reserve in case of emergency like you might have steaks and chicken in the freezer or cans of tuna and tomato paste in the pantry. In fact things like milk, bread and eggs

          • by rts008 (812749)

            Here in Rhode Island, people are terrified of snow. If they predict snow, all of a sudden there is no milk or bread in any store in the state. This always baffled me. Bread, ok. But WHY would you buy milk when there could be severe weather. If you're trapped in your house, your power will likely go out, and now you have a new gallon of spoiled milk. Genius.

            You do realise that a cooler or other container set outside in the snow will keep your milk cold, don't you? Genius indeed!

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          New England Law of Driving: The rudeness and stupidity of drivers in New England is inversely proportional to your distance from Boston.

          Note that this formula has the interesting property that as you approach Boston rudeness and stupidity rises first to infinity, and then to undefined territory.

    • by edremy (36408) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:38AM (#27921899) Journal
      Grumman billed North American Aerospace for towing the crippled Apollo 13 command module back from the moon. [geocities.com] Make it worth enough and I'm sure someone will be up there shortly
  • I visualized a bottle of rectified spirit in Martian soil.

  • by tippe (1136385) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:29AM (#27920913)
    ... but I guess it's a little too late now. Oh well, better luck next time.
  • by biocute (936687) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:31AM (#27920933) Homepage

    Does anyone know if managing the twins is still cheaper than sending a new rover?

    This occurs to me recently when I had to copy a 600MB file via USB1.0 port to thumb drive, which would have taken about 20 minutes.

    I decided to stop the copying, took out my laptop, connected to the network, mapped drive and copied that file in 2 minutes, altogether less than 10 minutes.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:32AM (#27920947) Homepage

      Yes.

      same as your 20 minutes waiting is cheaper than buying you a new laptop with Usb 2.0 high speed ports.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yuriyg (926419)
        Don't be so quick to judge. If the GP is a highly paid professional, his time actually might worth more than a modern netbook.
        Same story with the rovers. That was a legit question.
        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Even if he is paid $100.00 an hour it's still far cheaper to make him wait 20 minutes than to buy a new $1000.00 laptop.

          now if he waits 3 hours in a day then you approach the cost justification.

          I have never met a IT guy or even CIO that get's $100.00 an hour.

          • now if he waits 3 hours in a day then you approach the cost justification.

            I don't know about you, but I keep my computers longer than a few days. That investment will continue to pay off throughout the lifetime of the laptop.

    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:40AM (#27921047)

      The next rover to mars is costing $1.8B to build. Spirit and Opportunity costs around $4M per year to operate. So I think you can fund a lot of years of operations for $1.8B. Hell what does a Delta IV heavy launch cost these days? $50M? $100M?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Aquaseafoam (1271478)
        How does a rover on Mars cost 4 million per year to operate? Personnel for operating the rover couldn't possibly cost that much, and I'm sure the communication infrastructure for it was already in place.
        • by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:14AM (#27922489) Homepage Journal

          How does a rover on Mars cost 4 million per year to operate?

          Long distance charges.

          I don't think the $4million number is accurate anyway. It's likely higher. Last year they were going to cut the budget by $4 million and turn off one of the rovers but then changed their minds. IT looks like the budget for the program is actually $20 million according to this article [msn.com].

          Hmm... maybe they didn't change their minds and it's not really stuck.

          • by Tablizer (95088)

            Last year they were going to cut the budget by $4 million and turn off one of the rovers but then changed their minds.... maybe they didn't change their minds and it's not really stuck.

            Is the Mafia running NASA? "If ya don pay ya dues, we'll gitcha a pair uv ceement goulashes. Ya got dat?"

          • Personel, archiving, etc. - every single piece of data they get back is stored, forever.

            They're still using expensive and old equipment. Surely sometimes it breaks down, and they have to fix/replace it. 4 million isn't a lot - in fact, if it were that low, I'd say they're doing great!

            20 million seems more reasonable, depending on how many people they have working with the rovers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Communications infrastructure maintenance costs and data warehousing maintenance costs probably don't come cheap for a project like this. I'm sure they don't communicate with these rovers over a walkie talkie.

          I don't know how many people are on the team that operate each rover, but lets assume five. I'm sure they're making a smidge more than $8/hr, so chalk up another million in pay and benefits right there.

          I read somewhere that your average local walmart has an operating cost between 1 and 1.5 million. The

        • by sckeener (137243)

          personnel to operate
          personnel to plan where to go
          personnel familiar with the hardware
          personnel familiar with the software
          management
          Public relations
          Webadmin to post updates
          Storage space for data
          Servers
          electricity
          Earth based equipment to communicate with rovers
          etc...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Thumper_SVX (239525)

          The personnel may not, but the building they're housed in might. Oh, and electricity costs, overall infrastructure share cost (plumbing, networking, etc).

          And from my experience, NASA doesn't build a new comms infrastructure for every launch. They have large consolidated arrays that are actually owned by separate companies... sometimes literally, sometimes they're just "shadow" companies. Communications time is "rented" from these companies at a set rate.

          Yes, sometimes it's all just a shell game when dealing

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ChrisA90278 (905188)

          Personnel for operating the rover couldn't possibly cost that much,.....I'm sure the communication infrastructure for it was already in place.

          (1) Thos guys make between $85K and $120K per year. "overhead" about doubles that. This covers things like the building they work in, insurance, vacation pay and the bosses and office cleaning staff and capital equipment. So for $4M/year you get about 16 people full time.

          (2) The communications system is HUGE. We are taling about football sized antennas all around

      • by oldhack (1037484)
        New, old, they all cost less than a thousandth of Goldmand Sach's bailout (GSB).
    • by dotancohen (1015143) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:09AM (#27921445) Homepage

      Does anyone know if managing the twins is still cheaper than sending a new rover?

      Sending a new rover for what? There is a new rover on the way, but that does not make Spirit and Opportunity any less valuable. Even getting stuck in soft soil is doing science: the things that the scientists learn from the experience (what soft soil looks like when you approach it, what techniques to use to get out, how to built a rover that can handle it) will be useful.

      And don't forget, turning up this soft soil may reveal something important. Many of Spirit's discoveries were because of soil turned over due to her stuck wheel.

    • by Kamokazi (1080091)

      Most entry-level helpdesk people make enough money in 20 minutes to buy a 4GB USB 2.0 flash drive.

      However, launching a rocket into space is far from cheap. Sending it to Mars for a successful landing does not decrease the cost in the slightest. And you still need the same rough team size to run the thing.

      But they are currently developing a new rover, one built on everything learned from Spirit and Opportunity.

      Also, why does Spirit continually get the shaft? Crappy landing spot, bum wheel, can never find g

      • Most entry-level helpdesk people make enough money in 20 minutes to buy a 4GB USB 2.0 flash drive.

        the cheapest a quick search revealed for that drive would be about $10.

        20 minutes is 1/3 of an hour

        do you think that entry-level helpdesk pays $30/hour? (that's over $60,000 annually)

        • by Kamokazi (1080091)
          I've seen them go for $6, and I used a little dramatic exaggeration. The point at hand is the rovers. Sheesh.
  • 5 out of 6 wheels?!? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DavidChristopher (633902) * on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:36AM (#27921001)

    SOURCE: Wikipedia
    On sol 779, the right front wheel ceased working after having covered 4.2 mi (7 km) on Mars. Engineers began driving the rover backwards, dragging the dead wheel. Ironically, although this has resulted in changes to driving techniques the dragging effect has also had a positive effect in the fact that the wheel dragging has partially cleared soil away on the surface as the rover travels and allows for imaging areas that would normally be covered in soil.

    http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/mission/images/rover1_detail_500.jpg [nasa.gov]

    NASA got awesome mileage out of this vehicle... considerably more than was initially expected- over 7700 meters! Hopefully they get it unstuck. According the the NASA website, they've gotten it backed up by a few CM over the last few Sols...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's more mileage than most American cars :)

    • by tsalmark (1265778)
      The things are like zombies, they'll never die.
  • by yogibaer (757010) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:40AM (#27921041)
    In an era where time is the devil and speed is God, it's interesting and heart warming to see that there is actually an engineering job where you can spend weeks looking at the dust under your feet, comtemplate your (modest) goals (another 100 feet, yeah!) and then very, very slowly take you next step. And if a dust storm comes along, just wait for the next breeze to gently brush the dust of your panels and let the sunshine in. Envious. Quite envious.
    • That's the wonder of having an open ended mission without any specific goals. Go slow and produce something every once-in-awhile and you stay employed.
       
      Seriously, that's why NASA accomplished so many great things in the 60's - they had a goal and a deadline on the manned side, and a bunch of firsts to grab on the unmanned side. Since then, it's been mostly routine and ass covering as (like any bureaucracy) they revert to type.

      • by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @04:54PM (#27928021) Homepage Journal

        That's the wonder of having an open ended mission without any specific goals. Go slow and produce something every once-in-awhile and you stay employed.

        They "go slow" for a reason. For one, they only get approximately 2 communication sessions a day. If you let the rover keep trying something on its own, it may end up even more stuck. Thus, they back out incrementally and slowly.

        Further, it takes time to set up simulations of specific situations. Before opportunity went down into its first big crater, they studied the pathway photos and reproduced a test-bed with similar-looking rock and gravel. They went to the local Home & Garden Depot and purchased a bunch of flat patio rocks, chiseled them to shape, and stuck BB's into notches to simulate the so-called "blue-berries" discovered in the area (and in the crater photos). The interns that helped work on that must have been tickled. "Mom, I built Mars in NASA's back lot! I hope you still have Tide."

        I see very little reason to rush things unless there's a known time-limit. Plus, the rover can take multi-spectrum photos and readings of the surrounding area while waiting. It takes times to send big photos back unless you compress all the good details out of them. It's like dial-up across 70 million miles. While on the move the rovers cannot stop to smell the roses very deeply as they can while waiting for something.

        And, I hope future rovers have bigger wheels. This is about the 5th time I've read of getting stuck in sand/soil to some degree.
           

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      You could just work for the DMV.

  • by BigBlueOx (1201587) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:41AM (#27921053)
    WANTED: IlludiumQ36 space modulators. New or used. Top prices paid! Contact Shirley or Bobbie @NASA.
  • Inflatable Tires? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:43AM (#27921071)

    I wonder if they could put inflatable tires on rovers and then manually adjust the pressure for each one to accomodate different soil types, a la WWII DUKW http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DUKW It might help the rover to better adapt to different kinds of soils.

    Of course, it would have to be designed for the different pressures of the martian atmosphere.

    • They could - at a fairly steep cost in weight and complexity, two things a spacecraft designer avoids at almost any cost.

  • Shoulda... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:43AM (#27921079) Homepage

    Shoulda went with that optional AWD package.

  • by wandazulu (265281) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:47AM (#27921123)

    It's great to see that the rovers have lived on for so long, even if they are showing some wear-n-tear, but given the circumstances, they're clearly well built and I'd buy a used one off ebay any day (uh, shipper pays postage).

    I'm curious though, in a totally non-judgmental way, about the cost of the program in general; they expected the rovers to last, what, 90 days? So presumably someone budgeted so many resources here on Earth for people, etc., for that length of time. Since the rovers have been doing such a great job of defying expectations, what kind of effect does that have on the budget for the program; is it sufficiently small enough that it just gets lost in the wash?

    Also, since their plans were presumably all built for a 90-day time frame, how do they determine what to do now? Do they take requests from PhD candidates and researchers from around the world?

    • by NETHED (258016) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:10AM (#27921449) Homepage

      I've been wondering the same thing myself. I bet in the first 100 days, only very pre-planned experiments and moves were made.

      Now that we're what, 4 years in, I wonder if grad students are allowed minor joy rides in em. ("You published 2 Science papers, take Oppy for a spin").

      You know, now that I'm nearing the end of getting my PhD, it amazes me how science is done. And not in a good way. If you have not read the PhD Comic, you should, its funny because its (sadly) true.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Phairdon (1158023)

        I'm assuming that you have gone straight through school to get your PhD and haven't had a job in industry yet. If I'm wrong, then I'm sorry.

        One thing that I learned after graduating with my degrees and getting a real job is that real science and engineering is much different than school and research science.

        Real science is when you are working on a spacecraft (or some other physical product) and trying to get a real vehicle in the air. School science and lots of research science is plagued by lots of bad th

      • by Dunbal (464142)

        now that I'm nearing the end of getting my PhD, it amazes me how science is done. And not in a good way. If you have not read the PhD Comic, you should, its funny because its (sadly) true.

              All arguments of "a medical doctorate is not a "real" doctorate" aside - you should try med school if you want to see how far the definition of ass-kissi- er, science, is stretched.

        • by NETHED (258016)

          Funny you should say that, I'm going to continue to get my MD after my PhD.

          The main thing I learned from getting a PhD? Cite the right people, and choose the right reviewers. "Peer reviewed" my ASS

    • by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:27AM (#27921707) Journal

      By far, the largest cost of the project was building the rovers and sending them to Mars. Every day of return amortizes the cost of sending the rovers to Mars. The scientists studying the data sent back would have been studying data regardless. This just means they have gotten way more data than they could have hoped for.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lwsimon (724555)

      My understanding is that NASA designed the rovers to last as long as possible, but only committed to 90 days. Saying its good for a year and getting 6 months would be bad, saying its good for 90 days and making it 6 months is great :)

      Lowered expectations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 2short (466733)
        Well, while it sounds simple in press reports, you don't really design something to last 90 days exactly.

        You make some estimates and design something such that you think it has (for example) a 95% chance of lasting 90 days. You don't want to send the thing to Mars without being pretty sure it's going to last for the length of time you've decided will make it worth sending.

        But if it has a 95% chance of lasting 90 days, how long does it have a 50% chance of lasting? Probably years. "How long can you say it
      • by MRe_nl (306212)

        "How long to re-fit?" -- Kirk
        "Eight weeks. But you don't have eight weeks, so I'll do it for you in two." -- Scotty
        "Do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?" -- Kirk
        "How else to maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?" -- Scotty,
        "Your reputation is safe with me." -- Kirk,
        Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:30AM (#27922713) Homepage

      I'm curious though, in a totally non-judgmental way, about the cost of the program in general; they expected the rovers to last, what, 90 days? So presumably someone budgeted so many resources here on Earth for people, etc., for that length of time. Since the rovers have been doing such a great job of defying expectations, what kind of effect does that have on the budget for the program; is it sufficiently small enough that it just gets lost in the wash?

      Nothing gets lost in the wash in NASA's budget. Not only are there harsh internal reviews, NASA's line items are a popular target for Congressional review. Almost nothing NASA does is low profile, and politically (except for the really big programs) they're neutral - they have no strong constituency in favor, and they're a good place to hide a little pork from public view.
       
      That being said, if a program runs long NASA can (and does) reprogram funds from elsewhere to keep it running and then adds it into next years budget request. Programs are paid for annually, not in a lump sum up front.

    • by sckeener (137243)

      actually I was wondering about the sleep schedules of the techs working it. At the beginning they were working on Martian hours and not Earth hours.

      A martian day being 24 hours and 40 minutes roughly. The techs were coming in later each day which sounds nice until you get to the odd hours and leaving home when your significant other is just getting home.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      They probably cleared out some more resources from somebody's spare budget. It doesn't cost that much to keep a few people around to play around with it and take some pictures, it's cheaper than sending another one (probably 10 to 100 times cheaper) and leave that one to rot.

      For this little problem, they should just tell it to rock back and forth a few times. I figure it's kinda like off-road driving, you give gas until something gives (and hope it's not your vehicle that gives). If they really want/need to

  • DUI-S (Score:2, Funny)

    by youn (1516637)

    would the cause of the accident be a driving under influence of spirit ?

  • by Rog-Mahal (1164607) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:15AM (#27921511)
    Let's get some real people up there! Our unmanned rovers have given us a lot of valuable scientific data, but our space program needs some new life breathed into it. The days of the Shuttle are numbered, and technology such as ion rockets seems very promising.
    • by 2short (466733)
      "Let's get some real people up there!"

      Who do you think designed, built, launched, and now drives the rovers.

      "Our unmanned rovers have given us a lot of valuable scientific data"

      Yes, they sure have! Humans who explore using mechanical probes have been fabulously successful. Humans who explore by sending other humans? Not so much. Thousands of times the budget, and they can't keep their toilet running in LEO. Drop them and give me a thousand times as many mechanical probes; can you imagine the improvemen
      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Thousands of times the budget, and they can't keep their toilet running in LEO. Drop them and give me a thousand times as many mechanical probes; can you imagine the improvement in scientific results for the money?

        Besides the obvious PR value, a human team could do more work in the first hour than the rovers have done since first landing. Properly outfitted, a human team could spend months on Mars, performing practical experiments, collecting core samples, and exploring vast stretches of terrain. Best of

        • by 2short (466733)
          If humans on Mars can do more than humans on earth controlling probes on Mars, tell them to get on with it.

          You seem to be saying, humans on mars can do more than humans controlling probes, if you ignore the difficulty and expense of getting them there and keeping them alive and operating. In space exploration, getting there and staying alive and operating is the whole problem. Everything else is pointlessly trivial by comparison.

          "While unmanned probes will always be an extremely important part of space ex
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by c6gunner (950153)

            You seem to be saying, humans on mars can do more than humans controlling probes, if you ignore the difficulty and expense of getting them there and keeping them alive and operating.

            When Bush suggested launching new missions to the moon and mars, the NASA estimate for the entire effort came out to $120 billion. The Mars Rover missions cost something like a billion each. That means that for the price of 120 remote missions we can afford to launch two manned missions - one to the moon, and one to mars. Fol

  • Gernsbeck Continuum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by afabbro (33948) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:19AM (#27921583) Homepage

    Reading that headline, "Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars," I thought I'd been transported back to a 1930s Northwest Smith story about a haunted being trapped in the Red Planet. Alas...no.

  • by thespacemark (1553027) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:59AM (#27923123)
    Okay, it is pretty obvious that someone at NASA is a fan of the show, and figured if it worked for Wolowitz... Hey, surely 'I' won't be so stupid as to get the rover stuck. Maybe they will discover life on Mars while stuck in the dirt.
  • Rover Driver's Blog (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrekkieTechie (1265532) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:28PM (#27924469)

    At night, there's a small red light in the sky. On that light lives four hundred pounds of thinking metal sent from Earth. I tell that metal what to do, and it does it.

    Scott Maxwell, one of the rover's drivers, has a blog [blogspot.com] detailing the events of the mission exactly five years behind schedule.

  • Zim laughs at your inferior Earth technology! Stuck in pathetic martian dirt.. with your.. grr.. pathetic.. wheels of smell. With worthless... Errh..! BOW BEFORE ZIM!!!!

If at first you don't succeed, you are running about average.

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