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Mars NASA Science

Options Dwindling For Mars Spirit Rover 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the shouldn't-have-let-your-AAA-account-lapse dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA says it is narrowing a short list of things its scientists can do to extricate its stuck Mars Spirit rover. They are exploring a couple remaining options, such as driving backwards and using Spirit's robotic arm to sculpt the ground directly in front of the left-front wheel, the only working wheel the arm can reach. The amount of energy that Spirit harvests each day, however, is declining, as autumn days shorten on southern Mars. 'At the current rate of dust accumulation, solar arrays at zero tilt would provide barely enough energy to run the survival heaters through the Mars winter solstice.' NASA is currently analyzing results of a Jan. 13th attempt to move the spacecraft that involved a very slow rotation of the wheels. Earlier drives in the past two weeks using wheel wiggles and slow wheel rotation produced negligible progress toward extricating Spirit, NASA stated."
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Options Dwindling For Mars Spirit Rover

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  • If they had the Martians number they could just call them and ask them for help. NASA, you proud fools!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What's the big deal?

  • by jo_ham (604554) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .999mahoj.> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:20AM (#30798940)

    Is just to fly some guys up there with shovels. It can't be that badly stuck. Maybe do some science after they dig it out.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      the easiest thing to do is to send a second robot probe with a tow cable and winch it out.

      I wonder what AAA charges for that?

      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:00PM (#30799218)

        the easiest thing to do is to send a second robot probe with a tow cable and winch it out.

        That's way dumb. Call a local tow operator. Any Earthside tow operator will want to be paid for the mileage. You're paying them to drive 60 million miles each way. At $3 per mile, that's a lot of dough.

        • by TBoon (1381891)

          That's way dumb. Call a local tow operator. Any Earthside tow operator will want to be paid for the mileage. You're paying them to drive 60 million miles each way. At $3 per mile, that's a lot of dough.

          360 million dollars to put a man on mars seems much cheaper than anything NASA could come up with. Why didn't someone think about this before?

          • Just for the fun of it someone should call them. Record the conversation.

          • by nelk (923574)

            That's way dumb. Call a local tow operator. Any Earthside tow operator will want to be paid for the mileage. You're paying them to drive 60 million miles each way. At $3 per mile, that's a lot of dough.

            360 million dollars to put a man on mars seems much cheaper than anything NASA could come up with. Why didn't someone think about this before?

            This is one of the great failures of the rovers. If they would have stopped working after 90 days like intended, we could have dispatched a tow truck years ago. Sending help before that would be silly! Leave it to NASA to screw something up as simple as getting a robot stuck a few million miles away!

        • by Tablizer (95088)

          Call a local tow operator.

          Tried that, but the help on Mars is not very good:

          http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/4/2009/05/mars_marvin.jpg [gawker.com]
             

  • The Animal (Score:5, Funny)

    by HomerJ (11142) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:21AM (#30798944)

    This problem was solved in the 80's with The Animal: The Animal [youtube.com]

    Spirit Rover engineers should have played with more 80's toys. Can anything stop...THE ANIMAL?!

  • by GiveBenADollar (1722738) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:27AM (#30798994)
    "Hey baby wanna drive a car on Mars?" is not an appropriate use of scientific equipment.
  • How far away is the other rover, Opportunity ?

    Maybe it could grab this one and they could both get out together? Or both get stuck together one of the two!
    • by Spatial (1235392) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:43AM (#30799104)
      Opportunity landed on the other side of the planet. Although I don't know where it is right now, it's unlikely to be close given the fairly low speed of the rovers and the scientific value of maximising the survey area.


      Also, I'm surprised Slashdot didn't go with Opportunities Dwindling For Mars Spirit Rover.

      Punalicious.
      • What's the status on this rover? Is it OK?

        • by SharpFang (651121)

          Yes, it is. Since August 2007 it is heading towards another crater, far bigger than Victoria (22km in diameter) but since the other crater is good 12km away from Victoria, and the route resembles route of Little Red Riding Hood on her way to Granny (Oh, look what a pretty rock! Let's drill a hole in it and examine it! - and another week passes) it still hasn't covered even half the distance. ETA mid-2012 unless they find more interesting rocks on (off) the way, or something breaks. Anyway, they are taking i

          • by antdude (79039)

            Cool and thanks. At least we still have a working rover. :)

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            and the route resembles route of Little Red Riding Hood on her way to Granny (Oh, look what a pretty rock! Let's drill a hole in it and examine it! - and another week passes)

            Hey, I resemble that remark!

            No seriously, I mean "resemble", not "resent" which is the normal joke around here. Just ask any of my hill-walking buddies. Or the wife (who is more of the "oh, what a pretty cathedral" persuasion). Or Dad ("Oh what a stunning sedge/ grass/ lichen/ megalithic monument ...")
            What's the second part of the phras

      • by lennier (44736)

        Each time I read "Spirit and Opportunity" I keep thinking they should have named the first rover "Motive"...

    • by Larryish (1215510)

      Sounds like they need to let it rest until the season is more favorable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It won't have enough juice to survive the Martian winter. They have to try now while they can.

      • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash.p10link@net> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:33PM (#30801406) Homepage

        The problem for spirit as I understand it is they really need to be tilted towards the sun (or at minimum be at zero tilt) to maintain survival power levels through the winter and right now they are tilted away from the sun.

        normally this would be achieved by driving to a location that is tilted correctly for overwintering but they can't do that if they are stuck.

        They are considering digging one side of sprint in further to get a more favourable tilt but if they do that it will almost certainly mean the rover will never move again.

    • by mbone (558574)

      "How far away is the other rover, Opportunity ?

      Complete opposite side of the planet. That was deliberate - that way, Spirit and Opportunity never compete for the same ground tracking time, or for the same satellite relay time.

      • by mbone (558574)

        Oh, and that separation translates to centuries of driving time, even if they could last that long, which they can't

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by davester666 (731373)

        It also keeps them focused on their tasks. If they were together, it's just robot-on-robot sex, 24/7/365...or at least after every sunny day...

        • No ways would the rovers have sex, they are related to each other... oh they were created in the south of the USA, never mind.

        • It also keeps them focused on their tasks. If they were together, it's just robot-on-robot sex, 24/7/687...or at least after every sunny day...

          FTFY, this is on Mars, remember? (Wikipedia says the day is 24.622h, so you're close enough there.) :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wooferhound (546132)
      Here is the actual Nasa Mars Rover site . . .
      http://marsrover.nasa.gov/home/index.html [nasa.gov]
  • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:37AM (#30799056)
    A decent backhoe operator would be able to get it out [youtube.com]
    • Assuming the dirt behind the rover is not also soft?

    • by mbone (558574) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:18PM (#30799352)

      Yeah, an astronaut in a space suit would be able to free the rover in seconds, and clean its solar panels while he was at it. And, while we are at it, two or three astronauts in space suits could have done their entire multi-year missions in a few weeks in each location. But, since we don't have any astronauts in space suits handy on Mars, we are stuck with trying to wheelie it out.

      • Pff, when we can’t get to Mars... Mars has get to us!

        Does anyone have a giant space lasso?

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Unfortunately, none of the astronauts would have survived the trip. Once you add in food, water, oxygen, radiation shielding, pressure suits, a landing mechanism that wouldn't kill them and so on and the not so minor rocket and fuel required to get them back off the planet and back home, then yeah. It's a bit like saying "yeah, we need to flip that switch, it's in the middle of a nuclear reactor but a human could do it much faster." Minus the hostil environment that'd kill them, of course.

      • by lennier (44736)

        "Yeah, an astronaut in a space suit would be able to free the rover in seconds, and clean its solar panels while he was at it."

        That's a great idea! Keep a single astronaut on site to monitor the rovers and dig them out if they break. And if you have any problems with the astronaut, you just [LONG RANGE COMMUNICATIONS NOT RESPONDING [youtube.com]]

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        an astronaut in a space suit would be able to free the rover in seconds

        But you are comparing apples and oranges. The rovers could be made much fancier with digging tools galore and still be far cheaper than a manned mission. Further, if a manned mission has an unsolvable problem, people die. A dead robot is less of a loss and less embarrassing than dead people.

           

  • by jimhill (7277) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:49AM (#30799150) Homepage

    We have a tendency to anthropomorphize our gadgets, especially gadgets that move around and do stuff. How many times have we read about "the plucky rover" or "the rover that wouldn't quit" or "the rover that slept with my now-ex-girlfriend, the whore" ?

    They're machines. They were designed to do a job for a specific period of time with the expectation that we'd continue to use them until they finally broke down. Spirit has pretty much broken down. It's been a great run and we've gotten a shit-ton of data from it, but it's time to hit the Off switch and release the staff to other projects ... like prepping for the next rover mission.

    • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:10PM (#30799290)

      We have a tendency to anthropomorphize our gadgets, especially gadgets that move around and do stuff. How many times have we read about "the plucky rover" or "the rover that wouldn't quit" or "the rover that slept with my now-ex-girlfriend, the whore" ?

      They're machines. They were designed to do a job for a specific period of time with the expectation that we'd continue to use them until they finally broke down. Spirit has pretty much broken down. It's been a great run and we've gotten a shit-ton of data from it, but it's time to hit the Off switch and release the staff to other projects ... like prepping for the next rover mission.

      I hear the point you're trying to make, but it's not as black & white as you paint it to be. The real-world costs of getting a new rover to Mars is very high. The cost of paying a team of appropriately trained specialists for a few days or even weeks to potentially extend the useful lifespan of the existing rover is much lower. You and I aren't qualified to know the statistical odds of success, or the relative costs associated. Your words "it's time" are words we have no business speaking at this time.

    • by ratbag (65209) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:12PM (#30799320)

      Their current efforts surely are part of "prepping for the next rover mission"? Anything done on this mission provides data for the next one. Don't switch it off early and waste the opportunity to analyse end-game scenarios.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      They're machines.

      It was more like "God, they're machines! That's why I'm leaving you," but that's what she said.

    • "the rover that slept with my now-ex-girlfriend, the whore" ?

      It's that rover which is stuck? The hell with it, then--let it stay stuck! Serves that asshole robot right; I only wish my ex-girlfriend was up there with it.

    • What a boring world you must life in.

      But you are also plain wrong, even now the rovers are doing science, and the experience learned from this will help better design the next mission. The cost of keeping this going is neglible, just the cost of sending a signal and a small staff, on the NASA's budget it is tiny. Oh we could also give the couple of million to the banks so they can give themselves even bigger bonusses, but some people would call that silly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by carvalhao (774969)
      Obligatory quote: "Don't anthropomorphize our gadgets, they hate that"
  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:54AM (#30799174)

    We could have MANY rovers instead of wasting money on the Shuttle. The hurry to get men in space without exploring it first or developing robotic tech we absolutely require anyway bleeds vital resources from unmanned programs whose missions can last for years.

    The purpose of manned missions is essentially to have a man on the spot to run machines, not very different from having an engineer run a steam locomotive. We should not want this awkward and archaic way of doing business. Manned exploration is a hangover from when the loss of ships and men was literally trivial so plenty of them could be expended. Sailing ships routinely vanished without trace. Ships were cheap, rockets are not.

    There will always be a barrier between man and off-world external environments, he will always have to interact through that barrier, so it makes sense to perfect systems that will do this remotely. We are already working toward that goal on Terra, where we prefer to send machines to mine the earth, explore the depths of the sea, disrupt IEDs, and so forth. It is a natural progression to do this in the utterly hostile environment of space.

    Send the tourists at leisure and after technology is vastly more advanced. No need to put the cart before the horse.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mitchell314 (1576581)
      Yeah, we could spend more money on oranges by not funding apples. Rovers deal with exploration, and the shuttle was responsible for a bunch of other jobs.
    • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @12:18PM (#30799354)

      We could have MANY rovers instead of wasting money on the Shuttle. The hurry to get men in space without exploring it first or developing robotic tech we absolutely require anyway bleeds vital resources from unmanned programs whose missions can last for years.

      You're probably already aware, but all of this exploration comes from public funding, which is tied to public opinion.

      Tell me a kid who grows up thinking "some day I'm going to drive a robot on Mars" is going to approve of space-spending in the same degree that a kid who grows up thinking "some day I'm going to mars to drive a robot".

      Manned space flight is fantastic. As in the stuff of fantasy. Only it's within our grasp.

      What is interesting is that unlike basically every other technology we've invented, space-flight doesn't seem to get cheaper over time. You'd think nearly 40 years after landing on the moon, we'd be able to do it cheaper. Problem is what we're complicating the process, of course. The Apollo capsules were simple machines. Today, we'd load them up with intricate gear and triply-redundant equipment, all of which would require orders of magnitude more testing than the legacy stuff, driving the price astronomically high.

      My advice? Stop worrying so much about safety. There are plenty of qualified volunteers who would leap at a chance of making it alive. Simplify the gear, spend the money on the actual sensor and science packages, and get some boots back on the moon, and then Mars.

      Do it to inspire.

      • by jelizondo (183861) *

        There are plenty of qualified volunteers who would leap at a chance of making it alive.

        You are wrong: I would go even if I knew I wouldt get back alive!

        Just going would be enough for me.

        • I understand the feeling--and I might even agree with you. The question is, what do you bring to the mission?

          Frankly, I don't want to waste my tax dollars sending a computer guru to Mars--even if he wants to go on a suicide mission. I'd rather send geologists, possibly biologists, and other people who can actually do science.

          Ideally, I'd like to send the best and brightest of those people. Not just the ones with a death wish.

          • by jelizondo (183861) *

            I was agreeing with your comments up to the last line; I don't have a death wish, I simply would consider my life worth the trip.

            Alas, I'm perhaps too old to go anyway, but the point is, if you did advertise such a position I'm sure you'd find plenty of qualified geologists, biologists or whatever to fill every available position a hundred times over.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sapphon (214287)
        There is a logical contradiction in your argument: if the funding is tied to the public opinion, then reducing expenditures on safety directly reduces the chances of future funding – the Challenger and Columbia disasters did a lot of damage to the public image of space flight.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by khallow (566160)

        My advice? Stop worrying so much about safety. There are plenty of qualified volunteers who would leap at a chance of making it alive. Simplify the gear, spend the money on the actual sensor and science packages, and get some boots back on the moon, and then Mars.

        I don't think there's that much to gain by cutting back on safety. Some mission profiles like one-way trips to the Moon or Mars can take advantage of lower safety requirements (here, the safety compromise is not returning the astronaut), but for most of them, if you're compromising on safety, you're compromising on reliability and the success of the mission. If you look at the parts of NASA that emphasize safety, the real problem is too much safety/risk adverseness, but rather "not invented here". For examp

      • by guacamole (24270)

        I don't fully believe that the public opinion influences the direction of the space program much. I don't remember when it was the last time that a politician run an election campaign that emphasized the space program. Usually, it's the elected president who sets the direction of the program, subject to congressional approval. So, what should matter most is the opinion of the congress. I am pretty sure the members of the congress have a better judgement of the costs and benefits of sending the humans into t

      • by Xest (935314)

        That smell I can smell is the smell of a million health and safety bureaucrats world wide shitting their pants at the idea of your comment becoming reality.

        I salute you sir.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Ships were cheap, rockets are not."
      Really? Something tells me that you are assigning a value to tech based on it's current position, not the position it enjoyed at the time when it was the only option. It took a lot of the days resources and labor to build a ship, have you ever tried to construct something as "trivial" as a ship to sail on the open ocean with the tools available at the time? It was never "literally trivial" to lose a whole ships worth of men either. In fact I'd wager it was worse to l

    • by khallow (566160) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @01:11PM (#30799716)
      I strongly disagree. What is the point of exploring the universe in great detail, if humanity is going to live and die on Earth? Just spend what is necessary in order to figure out external risks like asteroid impacts and save the rest for more advanced navel gazing technologies.

      The whole point of human space flight is the assumption that we will be in space sooner or later. Given that it's not that hard to put people in space for a length of time indicates to me that we'll likely have more extensive human presence in a few decades, but that's just IMHO.

      There will always be a barrier between man and off-world external environments, he will always have to interact through that barrier, so it makes sense to perfect systems that will do this remotely. We are already working toward that goal on Terra, where we prefer to send machines to mine the earth, explore the depths of the sea, disrupt IEDs, and so forth. It is a natural progression to do this in the utterly hostile environment of space.

      I agree with the first sentence. This is the primary reason we'll always have unmanned space exploration. No matter how good we get at using people in space, they can't be everywhere. Distance, if nothing else, will be a barrier between humanity and many of the things we wish to explore - even in the Solar System.

      As to your second point, those are not significant demonstrations of remote operation of the kind done by NASA's unmanned program. Humans are still on location to maintain the machines and do other tasks. A Martian analogue would have people going to Mars, but spending most of their time in a central location (say fixing or managing stuff) while robots do the actual physical exploration and other grunt work.

      Your comments also bring up one of the problems I have with NASA. What do you think of when you think of NASA's manned space program for the past 30 years? Most likely it is the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. What do you think of when you consider NASA's unmanned space program? You probably think of the Voyager missions, Hubble Space Telescope, numerous very successful missions to Mars, Cassini and Galileo, etc. With manned space flight, you think of building and maintaining expensive infrastructure. With unmanned space flight, you think of space exploration though by expensive, unique, rock-star-style missions.

      The bottom line for me is that manned space flight has little use; unmanned space flight has somewhat greater utility; but neither really are worth the money sunk into them. You can claim that manned missions are inefficient, but I see no evidence of that. What I do see is a vastly unambitious and unsustainable effort to explore space either manned or unmanned. First, to address the unambitious part. Manned space flight has for the past thirty years never gone past LEO. The high point is a $100 billion (or more) space construction project that might end up doing a little space science on the side. This is pathetic.

      On the unmanned side, we have a cycle of space science that is so slow that scientists routinely die of old age before a probe is allotted to explore unanswered questions from previous missions. For example, the infamous Viking labeled release experiments [wikipedia.org] won't be duplicated for 35 years (or more) past the time of the original experiment.

      Compare this to the Apollo program. In a span of eight years (1961-1968), the US sent 21 space probes to the Moon (I believe 8 of them failed, 6 in the first four years). NASA then sent seven successful manned missions to the Moon (plus Apollo 13 which was a mission failure but passed around the Moon briefly). One merely orbited (Apollo 8), but the other six landed on the Moon (Apollo 11,12,14,15,16,and 17). The last three had manned lunar rovers which traveled at least 25 km. And collectively the missions dropped off a bunch of instruments and returned 380 kg of samples. I think th

      • by greg_barton (5551)

        With unmanned space flight, you think of space exploration though by expensive, unique, rock-star-style missions.
        Hey, nice rhetorical turn and all that, but the whole point of the mars rover missions is that they're cheap, repeatable, work horse type missions.

        My view is that currently, the only activities that are self-sustaining are commercial and military/reconnaissance satellites.

        Ah, I get it now. That's why you're so good at rhetoric but your argument doesn't make any sense. :)

        • by khallow (566160)

          Hey, nice rhetorical turn and all that, but the whole point of the mars rover missions is that they're cheap, repeatable, work horse type missions.

          Most of those labels are subjective so they could fit. $850 million could be considered "cheap". Workhorse describes just about everything that has ever worked past their expiration date in space. But "repeatable"? When are the "repeatable" missions going to be repeated? I see no evidence of a follow-on surface mission to the MERs. They were an expensive, one-time mission, just like most of NASA's unmanned activities.

          My view is that currently, the only activities that are self-sustaining are commercial and military/reconnaissance satellites.

          Ah, I get it now. That's why you're so good at rhetoric but your argument doesn't make any sense. :)

          Your argument doesn't make sense to me. As I see it, the commercial satellite business comb

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          the whole point of the mars rover missions is that they're cheap, repeatable, work horse type missions.

          What work is getting done, again? Did mars really need rover tracks?

          Ah, I get it now. That's why you're so good at rhetoric but your argument doesn't make any sense. :)

          Expecting space travel to pay for itself makes quite good sense.

          • by lennier (44736)

            "What work is getting done, again?"

            Getting me pretty desktop background pictures! That's what NASA exists for, right?

      • There's always been the military high ground aspect to the "civilian" space program. They can't ignore it. Sputnik was a HUGE kick in the pants to the US. That just can't be overstated. Official governmental involvement with space in general terms won't end, although a lot of it might disappear into the black budget (and a lot is probably there as well, right now). Manned or unmanned, it's the high ground, and any superpower knows this. They have and will continue to throw any number of civilian oriented sc

      • Compare this to the Apollo program. In a span of eight years (1961-1968), the US sent 21 space probes to the Moon (I believe 8 of them failed, 6 in the first four years). NASA then sent seven successful manned missions to the Moon (plus Apollo 13 which was a mission failure but passed around the Moon briefly). One merely orbited (Apollo 8), but the other six landed on the Moon (Apollo 11,12,14,15,16,and 17). The last three had manned lunar rovers which traveled at least 25 km. And collectively the missions dropped off a bunch of instruments and returned 380 kg of samples.

        There was also Apollo 10, which took the LEM within a few kilometers of the Moon's surface.

        I think the whole project from inception to end was somewhere over eleven years. Even now, I don't think one can repeat via an unmanned program the scientific accomplishments of Apollo without spending a similar amount of money.

        The Wikipedia articles give a cost of about $1bn for the Mars rover program, and $145bn in 2008 dollars for Apollo. There are a lot of factors that make the Moon easier than Mars (reduced gravity when landing, lower communications power requirements, etc.). On the other hand you would need chunkier rovers to achieve results similar to manned exploration, and rockets/heatshields/parachutes for sample return to Earth. A

        • by khallow (566160)

          The Wikipedia articles give a cost of about $1bn for the Mars rover program, and $145bn in 2008 dollars for Apollo. There are a lot of factors that make the Moon easier than Mars (reduced gravity when landing, lower communications power requirements, etc.). On the other hand you would need chunkier rovers to achieve results similar to manned exploration, and rockets/heatshields/parachutes for sample return to Earth. Also the nights are inconveniently long if you are solar powered.

          That Wikipedia number probably includes the Skylab stuff. And it uses a bad inflation index (probably the NASA New Start Index which is used for pricing NASA contractor R&D costs). I use the GDP deflator to get a cost range of $94-117 billion in 2008 dollars. Of that, probably 10% is due to Skylab, giving a cost of roughly 85-110 billion for the Lunar program. That's still a lot of money for unmanned missions.

      • by guacamole (24270)

        I strongly disagree. What is the point of exploring the universe in great detail, if humanity is going to live and die on Earth? Just spend what is necessary in order to figure out external risks like asteroid impacts and save the rest for more advanced navel gazing technologies.

        I strongly disagree. Not all of science is meant beforehand to have practical applications. Otherwise, there would be no point in spending money on research on say the formation of galaxies or tectonic mechanics because such endeavo

        • by khallow (566160)

          I strongly disagree. Not all of science is meant beforehand to have practical applications. Otherwise, there would be no point in spending money on research on say the formation of galaxies or tectonic mechanics because such endeavors have no obvious, tangible benefit for the humanity. Besides, unmanned space exploration costs a fraction of the cost of the projects like ISS.

          Heh, for your last statement you should read the rest of my post. I have opinions on that stuff as well. As for plate tectonics, that has obvious application for earthquake study, mining, and civil engineering. The study of galaxies on the other hand? Well, it'd make a lot more sense if we were going to colonize space at some point.

        • by khallow (566160)
          The study of galaxies has implications for celestial navigation. Stars move around. Because we've studied galaxies, we now understand why they move and can predict movement of our Sun and any particularly bright stars we use for navigation. Also, if you're going to use the sky for navigating expensive things in space, you better know what all those fuzzy blobs and other doodads are.

          The value might not be astounding great, but I have yet to hear of some scientific discovery which didn't have immediate app
      • by lennier (44736)

        "The whole point of human space flight is the assumption that we will be in space sooner or later. Given that it's not that hard to put people in space for a length of time indicates to me that we'll likely have more extensive human presence in a few decades, but that's just IMHO."

        There is a problem in that assumption, however.

        The problem is that outer space, kinda by definition, is a complete absence of anything useful. Unless you can eat rock and breathe hard vacuum, space is really just a gigantic hole i

        • by khallow (566160)

          The problem is that outer space, kinda by definition, is a complete absence of anything useful.

          I disagree. Outer space simply is everything beyond Earth's atmosphere. And there is a lot of stuff beyond Earth's atmosphere.

          Why is it the glorious manifest destiny of the human race to jump into a giant empty hole which takes years to cross where no stuff is?

          It only took a few days for Apollo to reach another world, the Moon.

        • by khallow (566160)
          Both Mars and Venus can be reached inside of 6 months using current chemical rocket technology. Those aren't "nothing" either. There are a number of NEO (Near Earth Object) asteroids that also can be reached in less time than "years". Some of those asteroids have more mineral resources than humanity has managed to mine so far.
    • by gbutler69 (910166)
      I don't think the people who used to make and fund sailing ships considered them cheap at all. They were the most technologically sophisticated man-made things of their days. The "wealth" needing to be expended per capita was probably on par with space exploration today.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Whole nations were deforested to build and repair navies in the days of sail. Cheap is one thing ships have never been... until we started making them out of plywood and fiberglass (which at least brings the mass of materials down dramatically, energy or otherwise.)

  • We need a Mars Geodetic Observatory - and Bill Folkner and the celestial mechanics guys at JPL have dibs on Spirit if it can't be freed.

    All we need is a dust-devil a year !

  • by Spatial (1235392) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:55AM (#30799184)
    They're now on day 2,200 or thereabouts. Now that's engineering. Even if they fail now, the rovers have been an incredible success.

    Some beautiful pictures too:
    Sunset on Mars [wikipedia.org]
    Dust Devil passing by [wikipedia.org]
    Our very own pale blue dot, as seen from Mars [wikipedia.org]
    A nickel-iron meteorite sitting on the surface [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by chaoticgeek (874438)
      The Sunset on Mars picture is stunning. Thanks for the link. Also it is quite a feat of engineering I think too. For them to last this long on another world is amazing.
    • A nickel-iron meteorite sitting on the surface

      It's obvious giant aliens are tossing their coins into mars to make a wish.
    • There was no reason it would die at 90 days, it was just a great job of managing expectations on the part of the public and within the organization.

      Every time I see a picture of it, I think how they could have designed it a bit more ergonomically. It looks like a committees designed each part without talking to each other.

      Based on what they know now, they should be able to design a better, more sustainable version for the next round. Maybe get some Apple designers in there...

      • by Skater (41976)

        Every time I see a picture of it, I think how they could have designed it a bit more ergonomically. It looks like a committees designed each part without talking to each other.

        Wait... you want an unmanned robot that's on a planet no human has visited to be a more comfortable workstation?

        • by swillden (191260)

          Every time I see a picture of it, I think how they could have designed it a bit more ergonomically. It looks like a committees designed each part without talking to each other.

          Wait... you want an unmanned robot that's on a planet no human has visited to be a more comfortable workstation?

          I don't think that word means what he thinks it means.

          • "Ergonomics is the science of designing the job, equipment, and workplace to fit the worker."

            In this case, the worker is the robot.

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        I guess the inability to design a user replaceable battery wouldn't be such a design failure on an unmanned mission to Mars.

        More seriously, I don't completely buy the 'It wasn't designed for a 90 day mission' claim that keeps being thrown out there. It certainly was NOT just about managing expectations. The cost to build a device that will last 6 years in a harsh environment is going to be dramatically more expensive than one that is designed to last 90 days. If they really did design the rovers to la
    • by TxRv (1662461)

      90 _Martian_ days, which are a little longer than Earth days. Still, as you said, it's been going for over 2200 days. The mission was definitely a huge success, and we've learned a lot more about not only Mars, but Earth as well.

      BTW, thanks for the pics. I hadn't seen the Martian sunrise one.

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      Spirit is pretty much dead. It won't move, at best it may just serve as observation station.

      But goddamnit, I'm impressed with Opportunity and NASA's ambition.
      In August 2008 they decided "We know Victoria well enough. So what's the next big step? Let's play it BIG. Endeavour crater. 22 kilometers diameter. 12 kilometers away. How long will it take? Oh, at current speed, some two years. Because maintaining current speed is an optimistic assumption, realistically some 4 years. So let's do it."

      Currently Opportu

      • Then there is the long life of other space probes, Voyager and Pioneer for example. Earth based equipment corrodes away. It gets buried by ice and snow. Damaged by storms. Out in space well built gear can go on for decades. Maybe Earth is not the best place to do engineering...

  • Use the arm! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HeikkiK (1517929)

    Have they considered all possibilities using the arm to help the situation in addition the showeling?

    * Put the arm down to the ground and use it to move the rover at the same time when spinning the wheels
    * has the arm enough power to lift or tilt the rover?
    * use the arm to change the center of mass before spinning wheels
    * use the arm to put rocks under the wheels

  • Spirit's already run much longer than we thought it would. If this is the end of it, then we've had our value out of it. Looking at its design though its clear, NASA have never watched robot wars. Spirit was built more for science than for robustness, lacking self right mechanism or any special moves to get it out of being stuck.

    ---

    Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • The poor rover (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:58PM (#30802668) Journal

    It's just me or does everybody find this a terribly sad story? The robot, trapped in the sands of an alien planet, its solar cells slowly depleting, far from any possible help. Waiting for the instructions that it hopes will liberate it, but the instructions fail, and they come ever less often now. The sun rises a bit less every day, and the shadows are ever longer...

    I cannot avoid it, it feels like a Ray Bradbury story or perhaps like Flowers for Algernon. Sad.

  • Would it be possible to upload a program that gives the wheels and the robotic arm short command pulses in alternating directions, at a resonant frequency tuned by the extension of the arm, to rock the rover loose in one direction or the other? Is that what the "wheel wiggles" mentioned are? Was the arm being swung in sync with these wiggles?

  • ...now the Martians are gonna slap NASA with a parking ticket.

  • remaining options, such as driving backwards

    Get stuck, go back.

    Has the option of going backwards not been tried yet? Or is it stuck on the infinite loop of options - let's try this, nope doesn't work, how about going backwards? Nope. Let's try that. Uh uh. Did we try going backwards? Try it now.

    Somehow nature has avoided evolving animals to have wheels. Maybe the next rover should have legs?

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