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Mars Space Science

End of the Road For NASA's Mars Rover? 181

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hello-up-there dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA celebrated Mars rover Spirit's bountiful, six-year stint on the red planet on Sunday – way longer than its forecast three-month mission. But it all may soon come to an end, stuck as it is in Martian sand."
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End of the Road For NASA's Mars Rover?

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  • some exoarcheology student in a couple hundred years is going to make the find of his life

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      I hope you mean some extra-terrestrial exoarcheology student, because it's too sad to imagine that all information on the rovers will be lost in a couple hundred years.

      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        Yes, that's more sad than thinking those extra-terrestrials have either killed us or drove us away from our solar system.

        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          Yes, that's more sad than thinking those extra-terrestrials have either killed us or drove us away from our solar system.

          Wow, foreign students must be pretty violent in your country. As you're still alive I guess they drove you away?

          Or maybe you're the foreign student and you killed the entire population of the country you were visiting?

          • by yurtinus (1590157)
            I think he meant they took'd his jearb.
          • by DrVxD (184537)

            Or maybe you're the foreign student and you killed the entire population of the country you were visiting?

            Or maybe he's one of the foreign "explorers" that come long before the students do... they're the ones that do the killing and the driving away...

      • "the lost century: the millennial archive hole"

        abstract: paper archives from the 1900s are still useable today, the only barrier being language conventions of that time period. additionally, digital records from the 2100s are usable today, due to mandated standardization of file formats and the prevalence of cheap, eternal nanoholographic storage. however, the 2000s consisted mainly of magnetic and optical storage on flimsy media. additionally, file formats were often proprietary, quirky, and ever changing due to the rapidly evolving nature of digital technology from that early era. if the actual media itself wasn't degraded, the file format itself was usually forgotten in a generation or two. finally, many early groundbreaking sites of the primitive internet are lost to posterity simply because they were designed to be ephemeral and ever changing, and no one thought to take archival snapshots of their content. it didn't seem important at the time. and so, the early decades of the digital age, when many fundamental crucial decisions were made that have defined our culture today, are forever lost to us

        • ...after all (how it has been predicted since the beginning of written history when looking at the intellectual and moral demise of youth, of course)

          Or at the least promoters of PHDs will do that. How could one dealing with the above dissertation let it through without mentioning DRM?

        • So? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:47PM (#30643264) Journal

          The covering stones of the Pyramids have been used to build other buildings. The Chinese wall has been dismantled for resources as well. Painting have been painted over for the want of a canvas. Tapes for tv-shows have been re-used because tapes were expensive and who cared about another sitcom.

          It is nothing new. We learned most of the egyptians from their dump site where they dropped tons of daily, and in their eyes, worthless communication. One accidently saved backup of MySpace will tell future researchers more then museums of our age. It is the data we don't care about that tells the most about us.

          Some floppies will survive, purely by accident, and it will be, enough. The holocaust is important for our generation and yet its most influential book, The Diary of Anne Frank, is an accident. You could have all the records of the holocaust in tact, and it still wouldn't speak as loudly. If all the diaries of all the victims still existed, then they would be meaningless, a huge pile of paper nobody would ever bother to read. Precisely because records of the past are rare, we value them. If we knew every move of the roman empire, had it all on paper, what would be there to explore? Proof? How many people study ancient history vs the present? You can get all the records of the current senate of the world most powerful nation... C-span. Nobody is watching.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kjella (173770)

          If we preserve 0.01% of the digital junk we keep around, the 2000s will be much better documented than the 1900s. Hell, I was reading not that long ago about a huge library of old newspapers (like dead tree from the 1800s) that was being thrown away, because no one wanted to pay for storage. It's all been digitized though, probably OCRs too so you can do things like search it instead of sifting through endless microfiles. One reason alone digital will survive because it's valuable, I just recently noticed a

  • Anytime Spirit/Opportunity are mentioned here, somebody puts in the post that they are amazing, considering they were designed to work for 90 days.

    It should noted that they were designed to work no matter what for their initial 90 day mission and that running beyond that was expected.

    Of course, running 6+ years is quite an accomplishment.

    myke

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      It should noted that they were designed to work no matter what for their initial 90 day mission and that running beyond that was expected.

      Very true. 90 days was a "guaranteed" lifetime for doing the cost-benefit analysis for the mission. Obviously to guarantee 90 days, the rover would have to be designed to last much longer than that.

      It should also be noted that the 90 day lifetime was based on how long they thought it would take before the Martian dust covered the solar panels and the rover died. Variou

  • Way to go, NASA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:56PM (#30642544)

    As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

    • Re:Way to go, NASA! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by amabbi (570009) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:23PM (#30642972)

      As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

      I think it's also important to note that NASA is something like 5/6 in Mars landings.... no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully. People (correctly?) shit on NASA for its perceived failings in manned spaceflight but it has an unbeatable record in interplanetary exploration.

      • Re:Way to go, NASA! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rakishi (759894) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:34PM (#30643122)

        Sort of, the soviets managed to land intact on Mars twice. Of course since both lander stopped working within half a minute it's hard to really call them successful.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        ...no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully...

        Huh? While mission of Soviet Mars 3 lander was pretty much a failure (transmission ended 20s after landing due to unknown reasons; what it transmitted and observations suggest it had the misfortune of landing in extreme dust storm), it has successfully landed. It was the first man-made objest on Mars that did.

        There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

        • Re:Way to go, NASA! (Score:4, Informative)

          by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:13PM (#30643616)

          The USSR bounced plenty of probes off and past Mars before and after the Mars 3 lander. Getting onto the surface of Mars is no trivial task. I think they had 7 failures (not including launchpad kerfuffles) where the probe either stopped responding, missed the planet or created a new crater.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by eples (239989)

          There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

          Just landing isn't much of an accomplishment. Did the Soviets get any useful science from the landing itself? They don't even know why it stopped working after it landed (successfully). Please, remember this all you want - I have no objection.

        • by DrVxD (184537)

          In Soviet Mars, Russia lands on you!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DrVxD (184537)

        There's an old trueism - "you get something right, nobody remembers. You get something wrong, nobody forgets."
        Sadly, no organisation in history has suffered from that more than NASA.

    • As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- ...

      From CNN circa 1999...

      NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency's team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday.

      ...

      The latest findings show that the spacecraft's propulsion system overheated and was disabled as Climate Orbiter dipped deeply into the atmosphere, JPL spokesman Frank O'Donnell said.

      That probably stopped the engine from completing its burn, so Climate Orbiter likely plowed through the atmosphere, continued out beyond Mars and now could be orbiting the sun, he said.

      missed it by that much...

  • by Alcimedes (398213) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:56PM (#30642548)

    I'd just like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to the folks that designed this rover. It was slated for a 180 day mission, and they just finished up day 2,190. That's some pretty high quality engineering that must have gone into this project, especially when you take into account it's on *another planet*, so no tech to fiddle with something that's just a bit off here or there.

    No parts, no cleaning, no help at all. To top that off, it's doing all of this on Mars, which isn't really an electronics friendly environment. It crash landed on another planet from a rocket ship and worked 10x longer than it was supposed to.

    Well done.

    • No parts, no cleaning

      Mars has been doing the cleaning. The wind has been cleaning the solar panels, and maybe the wind will have to either clear away the sand from the rover wheels or bury it.

      I wonder is snake locomotion has been tried. Turn the steering wheels to the side (or is it steered like a tank?) and slither around to smooth out the ground underneath. Typically when a wheel is stuck, it is in a depression surrounded by loose material - slithering pushes aways the surrounding hills and permits a hill

  • All is not lost (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    One option being considered is spinning the wheels on one side in the hope of tilting the solar panels to face the winter sun. Even if Spirit never travels again, all is not lost. There is a radio experiment for measuring the wobble of Mars as it spins that requires the rover to stay in one place. The key is surviving the upcoming winter, which may depend on a fortuitous wind blowing accumulated dust off the solar panels.

  • Funny you should use that euphemism. A road would have helped the rover considerably.
  • Those of us who are interested in Martian climate oscillations hope that they can turn Spirit into a Martian geodetic observatory, to study the rotation of Mars. There hasn't been a good platform for doing this since Viking 1 died some 27 years ago.

    As Bill Folkner [nasa.gov] says : ""Long-term change in the spin direction could tell us about the diameter and density of the planet's core. Short-period changes could tell us whether the core is liquid or solid." There would also be good science in comparing the current

  • Have you ever landed a dream job with dream pay, only to realize it is just a 3 month contract? What do you do to extend it, and for how long can you do that?
    Here are the rules:
    1. Dont brake anything you need to do your job.
    2. Do everything really slow. And I mean really slow:
    -Tell your boss it will take 6 month to make a right turn.
    -Be a hero when you are able to do it in 3 months, stop the vehicle, take a lot of pictures, have some discussions, test the right turn in a sandbox, discuss mor

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      1. Dont brake anything you need to do your job.

      Did you mean "brake" or "break"? Because if you meant "break" it changes the meaning of what you said entirely, and if you meant "brake" I fail to see how slowing down your job will do anything except to make it last longer.

  • Has anyone at NASA tried contacting their local truck loving redneck to see if they could get it unstuck? You know, right before abandoning their multi-million dollar rover, just let their local mud loving red neck (with years of experience offroad) go to work and see what they can do. Once the engineers have given up, I can't see the harm, and there's that given chance that they can get it out.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I doubt your average redneck has had a truck that took ten minutes to get it from forward to reverse and another ten minutes to see if anything happened. That's how long it takes for a command to reach Mars from Earth, and from the feedback to reach Earth from Mars.

  • by roots0 (909343)
    “There are levels of survival we are willing to accept.”
  • Correct me if I am wrong, I probably am, but I thought there were 2 of these rovers, could the other not lend a hand to get the first out of the mud/sand, or wipe off his panels for him???

    • by Titoxd (1116095)
      It's on the other side of the planet. It would probably take a sizable portion of our lifetimes to drive Opportunity all the way to Spirit's location (assuming that is even possible due to topographical obstructions).
      • yes, and what better way to map out the planet then to do exactly this, if it were me, I would want to get as much out of my buck for the bang, as possible, and if I have to send my one car to help the other get out of the snow (or in this case sand) then so be it, I dont just leave my vehicle parked there.

    • by LMacG (118321)

      Yes, there are two of them. They landed on opposite sides of the planet, so it's not like Spirit can just yell across the canyon to his buddy. In fact, Opportunity has travelled less than 12 miles in the six years it's been there.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Correct me if I am wrong, I probably am, but I thought there were 2 of these rovers, could the other not lend a hand to get the first out of the mud/sand, or wipe off his panels for him???

      As has already been pointed out, they're very far apart from one another on the planet -- many orders of magnitude further than either have traveled yet, and way more than either of them could ever possibly travel. Like, around the planet kind of distances.

      However, since the second one was added as a bonus (and I guess a

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      They're on opposite hemispheres of Mars.

  • Send more! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by J05H (5625) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:40PM (#30644018) Homepage

    These rovers are a very mature design that has worked flawlessly. Build and send a dozen of them.

    • by pz (113803)

      These rovers are a very mature design that has worked flawlessly. Build and send a dozen of them.

      Indeed! Or make just minor modifications to the design: it has been a proven reliable platform.

      Modifications (off the top of my head) that would prove useful:

      1. more memory to avoid the pesky problems with the NVRAM
      2. higher energy density batteries (thanks to improved chemistries now available)
      3. ultrasonic vibrator to shake dust off the solar panels (work GREAT in my digital SLR camera)
      4. redesign the wheels a tad ... perhaps add a means of mechanical decoupling if they completely lock up
      5. just a tad mo

  • TIC. Definitely one of NASA's top 5 accomplishments.

  • Can RAT save Spirit? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zchris_gr (845137)
    I really wonder if the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) arm (the grinder arm) is strong enough to help Spirit move away from its sand trap... Christos/Greece

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