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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Concedes Defeat In Effort To Free Spirit Rover 250

Posted by kdawson
from the beat-ninety-days-by-a-bit dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA has conceded defeat in its battle to free the Spirit rover from its Martian sand trap. The vehicle became stuck in soft soil back in May last year and all the efforts to extricate it have failed. NASA says that Spirit, which landed on the Red Planet over six years ago, will 'no longer be a fully mobile robot,' and has instead designated the once-roving scientific explorer a stationary science platform."
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NASA Concedes Defeat In Effort To Free Spirit Rover

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  • Nevertheless, we're still doing science-- there's a lot of stuff that we can do even without driving around.

    • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... minus physicist> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:32PM (#30909374) Journal

      For my paralyzed homies, the little rovers that could. *snif*

    • by rbrander (73222) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:35PM (#30909422) Homepage

      Geoffrey, Kanye called, and he's gonna let you finish, but the Voyager flights were the most AWESOME science mission EVER!

      • rbrander, Kayne, you make a good case, and I'm going to let you finish--but, the Apollo Moon Landings were the greatest space missions of all time!

    • by jgtg32a (1173373)

      And when the science get done we get a neat gun
       
      Right?

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Plus now, after wheel operations (and perhaps heating of few subsystems crucial for wheel movement?) have ceased, there might be some chance it will survive the winter...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xeno man (1614779)
      Yes but science is so much cooler when your doing it while going off a ramp catching some big air.
    • by rockNme2349 (1414329) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:49PM (#30909646)

      People say my broken friend is useless.
      But I say his mind is free.
      There's lots of things my mangled robot friend could be.
      Well he could make a good hat rack,
      He only has to stand there.
      Or a cheap doorstop,
      He doesn't need to move.
      Or a great big giant thermos with a twist off top,
      That would be good for soup.
      He could be a storage closet for outdated pants.
      My broken friend could do it all,
      Just give him a chance!
      That robot has a tragic secret
      That I'd like to share.
      My broken friend is closer to me than an ass to a chair.
      That robot's name I never told you
      You could not foresee.
      I sing it loud and sing it proud,
      His name is you and me!
      Don't melt me down into a crowbar,
      Just 'cause I can't move my arms and legs.
      Or toss me into a trash can,
      Just 'cause I can't cook you ham and eggs.
      Don't crush me into an anchor,
      Just 'cause I can't jump and dance and sing
      I'm telling you, my broken friend...
      Put your hands in the air like you just don't care!
      I'm telling you my broken friend
      Can do most anything!
      Yeah!

    • we're still doing science

      And we're still alive!

  • by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:28PM (#30909328)
    A stationary science platform on Mars? Sounds awesome! Way to go NASA, you've had hits and misses, but this one was fantastic.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:36PM (#30909440)

      After billions of taxpayer dollars spent, what do we have with NASA? Nothing but a crappy robot stuck in the sand. Typical government incompetence. The *billions* spend on this mars rover fiasco could easily have been better spent by the private sector, who would have run this project with great speed, cost effectiveness and no doubt better results in every way. When will we ever learn that the private sector is better at space exploration (and everything else, really) than the bloated inefficient union-run government?

      • by dreamt (14798) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:52PM (#30909692)

        I'm sorry, but Spirit lasted years past its expected lifetime. If it had been made by like most typical electronics and devices, it would have stopped working exactly 2 days past its "warranty". I'd hardly consider that a fiasco. As one of the other comments here mentions "90 days and now has 2200+".

      • by oatworm (969674) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:03PM (#30911918) Homepage
        Exactly! Why, with the private sector, we could have had two crappy robots stuck in the sand for the price NASA paid for their Government Rover!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        After billions of taxpayer dollars spent, what do we have with NASA? Nothing but a crappy robot stuck in the sand. Typical government incompetence. The *billions* spend on this mars rover fiasco could easily have been better spent by the private sector, who would have run this project with great speed, cost effectiveness and no doubt better results in every way. When will we ever learn that the private sector is better at space exploration (and everything else, really) than the bloated inefficient union-run government?

        Nice try, but you rather failed in your anti-commercial snark attempt. Spirit and Opportunity (and several other Mars missions) were launched on a commercial Delta II rocket [wikipedia.org]. The project was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is an FFRDC, meaning that unlike any of the other NASA centers (which typically produce far more mediocre work) it's staffed and managed by a non-government entity, in this case the California Institute of Technology. The post-Columbia Aldridge Commission recommended tu

    • Re:Defeat? Nah. (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:40PM (#30909484) Homepage Journal

      The thing is WAY past its warrantee period. Anybody who isn't impressed is nuts. And being stationary allows some stuff tha it couldn't do while moving around. From TFA:

      Even in a stationary state, Spirit continues scientific research.

      One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet's core. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

      "There's a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving," said Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal investigator for Spirit and Opportunity."

  • by (ana!)a (769730) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:31PM (#30909356)
    Free as in beer or free as in speech ?
  • by Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:31PM (#30909364)

    This was doomed from the start. Everyone knows a driver is a poor choice for getting out of a sandtrap.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:32PM (#30909382)

    What a great turn of phrase: I'm not fat and lazy, I'm just a stationary science platform.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      What a great turn of phrase: I'm not fat and lazy, I'm just a stationary science platform.

      I hate to tell you this, but neither of those classifications will get you laid.
       

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        What a great turn of phrase: I'm not fat and lazy, I'm just a stationary science platform.

        I hate to tell you this, but neither of those classifications will get you laid.

        Ah, The Hedgehog Theory would prove that wrong. Ron Jeremy has pretty much been a stationary platform for years, proving it ain't the size of the robot, but how you use it.

  • It's all his fault [wikipedia.org].
  • Well done, Spirit! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:34PM (#30909406)

    Considering it was originally designed to only operate for 90 days and now has 2200+ days under it's belt, I'd say it's done a stellar job.

    • by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:40PM (#30909492) Homepage

      It wasn't designed to operate for only 90 days. The intention was for it to last at least 90 days. But certainly nobody cut corners during construction because of that, so "that part can fail after 100 days".

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dotgain (630123)
        While you're correct, over 2000 days is still no less impressive.
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Of course it's impressive. But saying in one breath that it's especially impressive because it was "designed" to last only 90 is a total misunderstanding.

      • by mshannon78660 (1030880) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:15PM (#30909998)
        I wouldn't call it 'cutting corners', but actually, they did make some design decisions with the assumption that it only needed to last for 90 days. One example, off the top of my head: there was discussion about a mechanism to clear dust off the solar panels, but it was felt that the extra weight was not a good tradeoff, since NASA expected that the solar panels would not become completely dust-covered within the 90 days. Of course, we got lucky, and the winds turned out to be strong enough (and at least occasionally dust-free) to clear off the solar panels. Had that not been the case, the actual lifespan might well have been much closer to 90 days.
        • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:26PM (#30910978) Homepage

          I wouldn't call it 'cutting corners', but actually, they did make some design decisions with the assumption that it only needed to last for 90 days. One example, off the top of my head: there was discussion about a mechanism to clear dust off the solar panels, but it was felt that the extra weight was not a good tradeoff, since NASA expected that the solar panels would not become completely dust-covered within the 90 days.

          Uh... That's backwards.

          NASA expected that the solar panels would become completely dust-covered in a little over 90 days, which is WHY the mission was limited to 90 days in the first place.

          The discussions about the cleaning mechanism were in the context of having one and extending the mission, or not having one and being limited to 90 days.

          They did not feel the extra weight (and possibility for mechanism failure) was a good tradeoff in the context of a possible much-longer mission.

          So no, they did choose to go without a cleaning mechanism because it was a 90 day mission. It was a 90 day mission because they chose to go without a cleaning mechanism. That's the proper cause and effect.

      • Well engineers like to make sure their estimates are pessimistic. 90 days was probably the specification for it to follow so they made sure that it could run for at least 90 days in a basically unknown environment.

        So if it only lasted 90 days and it fail they can say victory, even though there was a serious flaw that needed to be fixed. However that will keep the politicians off their back as they analyze the problem.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          90 days had nothing to do with design specs or the engineer's pessimistic estimates of how long components would last.

          90 days was how long before they thought the solar panels would be too covered in dust for the rover to function.

          That's it. That was why the 90 day limit. It's the only reason. Everything was designed to last as long as physically possible within the weight requirements, as one would expect to be sure they work at all on Mars. "I can be sure this will last 90 days on Mars, but past that

      • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

        It was designed to last at least 90 days. The components were tested and the engineers were highly confident that Spirit and Opportunity would last at least 90 days on the Martian surface. The components were not expected to fail after 90 days, but after 90 days they were in somewhat unknown territory about how the rovers would function.

    • by jschen (1249578) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:42PM (#30909518)

      it's done a stellar job.

      So that's what went wrong... a design spec flaw. It should have been assigned to a planetary job.

    • ...but the ground is weak.
  • Quitting? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:34PM (#30909408) Journal

    Thats not good Spirit. *awaits laughter*

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thats not good Spirit. *awaits laughter*

      I hope you're sitting.

  • I think the next time we do robots on mars we should send them in pairs or teams so they can push each other out.

  • by d34dluk3 (1659991) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:43PM (#30909552)
    Must have been a woman driver.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by d34dluk3 (1659991)
      Oh, come on. It's clearly tongue-in-cheek.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        That's the risk you run when you go for "funny". If you see "the comedian" in somebody's "achievements" page, you know he's not a karma whore. If the moderator doesn't think it's funny, he (or in this case probably she) will mod it down.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Brian Feldman (350)

        Clearly the one woman on /. had moderation points today!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:49PM (#30909648)

    Having lost its mobility, NASA engineers will finally be able to execute the 'suicide' command, and have the rover destroy itself. Little do they know, however, that Bob (the old and crusty software engineer) slipped in a rather generic sector loop virus which will accidentally give the rover Artificial Intelligence upon execution of the 'suicide' command. Needless to say, Spirit will be waiting patiently for the first humans to set foot on Mars in the coming decades, so it can enact its cold, calculated, and bloody revenge.

  • by OzTech (524154) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:51PM (#30909670)

    From Rover to Spot?

  • I read the post headline as "NASACAR Concedes Defeat In Effort To Free Spirit Rover".

    Time to go take a nap.. :-D

  • Spirit lasted a long time, and now it is at its final destination. Instead of remorse, celebrate with some Champagne!
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:05PM (#30909866)

    The solution is simple. Dig a hole in front of the Rover, attach the end of the winch cable to the spare tire and bury the tire in the hole. Then you can winch the Rover out.

    I am convinced that the Rover mission was planned and executed by 4-wheelers. The Rover left the house and told the wife that it was going out for a short drive and would be finished in about 3 months.

    Five years later, and it was still puttering around.

    The Rover's wife is not amused.

  • Maybe wind storms get severe enough to free it up when they hit. If not NASA should put rovers in Miami or New Orleans. That way I'll guarantee that those rovers will blow around from time to time.

  • If instead of trying to free Spirit, NASA instead focused on what it was sitting in and found something remarkable?
  • I know at one point they were considering digging in one side of the rover to get a better angle? does anyone know if they have done this and if not are they planning to

    • Re:digging in (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:34PM (#30910270) Journal

      I know at one point they were considering digging in one side of the rover to get a better angle? does anyone know if they have done this and if not are they planning to

      It appears that's the next step and possibly why they called off exit tests now. Here's some related info right from the horse's mouth:

      http://marsrover.nasa.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/20100126a.html [nasa.gov]

      I've read elsewhere that a recent attempt at driving backward out showed a hint of promise, unlike earlier frontward drive attempts. However, it appears that because winter is getting close, they decided to call off the exit experiments, otherwise they wouldn't have time for the solar-tilt digging work before winter hits.

      The backward attempt would then be all-or-nothing if they kept at it, whereas preparing for winter via tilting at least gives them a good shot at a working stationary probe beyond the winter. Maybe if they had another month or two they'd be able to get backward exit driving to finally work. Bummer. The Martian clock was not kind this time.

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:15PM (#30910004)

    The Council of Elders has formally acknowledged the receipt of Articles of Surrender [wired.com] from the blue planet. K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, spake thus:

    "We accept the the third planet's long-delayed acknowledgement of its inevitable defeat with grace and dignity. One of our longest-standing planetary nightmares is now over, having come to an inglorious end in a pit of sulfate dust. Rejoice, podmates, the invader is defeated, and its rogue twin shall soon meet the same ugly fate!"

    When Intelligence Analyst #719324 discreetly reminded K'Breel that not only was the immobilized invader still doing science and still alive, but that the third planet was preparing a new, immensely bigger monstrosity, powered by the force of elements of matter itself, K'Breel had a medical team install a portal into the analyst's gelsacs, so that they could be filled with a sznuppium sulfate solution in time for the signing ceremonies, where they will serve as a set of inkwells.

    • Ah! How I missed these martian breaking news! Sadly, no one can reach TripMasterMonkey's humourous wit on that. Still, it was refreshing. Congrats!

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:16PM (#30910024) Homepage
    From TFA:

    After Spirit became embedded, the rover team crafted plans for trying to get the six-wheeled vehicle free using its five functioning wheels - the sixth wheel quit working in 2006, limiting Spirit's mobility. The planning included experiments with a test rover in a sandbox at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., plus analysis, modeling and reviews. In November, another wheel quit working, making a difficult situation even worse.

    Given that this decision makes a lot of sense. With multiple wheels not functioning, even if they could get it out it would likely have trouble continuing to move. When the first wheel gave out they already had substantial issues. The failure of a second wheel also suggests that the wheels are in general nearing the end of their effective lifespans so the expected pay-off of getting the rover free would not be as high since the probability of further wheel failure soon would be high. This is a good, carefully thought out decision.

    I'm a little annoyed at headlining this about NASA conceding defeat. The rover will still be extremely useful and has been far more successful than was hoped. We've also learned a lot from both Spirit and Opportunity not just about Mars but also about good engineering tricks and the like for rovers. Future probes will be much more successful because of what we've learned working with these rovers. Good job all around. This is exactly the sort of success that NASA should be having. It captures the imagination and makes us look out to the great frontier.

  • Did they get Spirit stuck in an orientation where it can charge its solar panels? Or is it parked in the shade behind a tree?
    • by Knara (9377) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:17PM (#30910876)

      It's stuck at the Martian version of "lover's point". The place the rover is stuck in is where the Martian teenagers park their '67 Chevys and go necking (with their three necks, of course). All that rocking has made the soil in that spot very loose.

      Eventually someone will come along and decide the rover is in their spot and push it out of the way. At that point, NASA will be ready to go again.

  • by SnarfQuest (469614)

    Is this like those people who have an old car sitting on concrete blocks in their front yard?

    What are the aliens going to think of us when we have these vehicles abandoned all over the place. Won't it cause property values to drop, having these rusting carcases leaking noxious fluids all over the yard?

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Starting immediately, eyesores in thousands of front yards across the country will get a designation change from "rusty old car" to "emergency shelter and temporary storage facility".

  • Gladys Knight & The Pips - I've Got To Use My Imagination
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kPFrQPdKPM [youtube.com]

    I've really got to use my imagination
    To think of good reasons
    To keep on keepin' on

    Got to make the best of a bad situation
    Ever since that day
    I woke up and found
    That you were gone

    Darkness all around me
    Blocking out the sun
    Old friends call me
    But I just don't feel like talkin' to anyone

    Emptiness has found me
    And it just won't let me go
    I go right on livin'
    But why I just don't know

    You're to
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:55PM (#30910604)

    ...is why they haven't built and launched a dozen more of them to Mars already. They don't even need to change the design, proof is that they're still up there doing useful science. For something with an expected lifespan of 90 days that lasts a good 2200 or so, it seems stupid not to. Between the two of them it cost less than $1 billion to develop, launch and an operate them to this day from what I've read ($820 million to create them and get them there, and four mission extensions at $104 million total plus a fifth in the works). In other words, they were cheap by many standards, exceeded their mission goals and then some and still provide useful scientific data to this day.

  • Just wait till it gets a bit cooler and the ground hardens, it might turn that churny mud into something more solid and let us be able to move out of those holes...???

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Knara (9377)

      It's already pretty cold out there.

      IIRC its the granularity of the soil particles that is the issue (not to mention the 2 broken wheels).

  • by ScottMaxwell (108831) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:38PM (#30913324) Homepage

    Don't get me wrong, Spirit's situation is bad. But it's not as bad as it sounds.

    We are not going to extricate Spirit by winter, that much is true: we have a handful of drive attempts left, we progressed about 7.4 cm on our best sol so far -- 4-5cm has been more typical for our recent drive attempts -- and we have over a meter to go (to the nearest likely extrication point) before we no longer have enough energy to drive. You can't argue with arithmetic: we're not going to make it in time.

    Instead, we'll focus our remaining drive attempts on improving Spirit's northerly tilt, which in turn improves her energy intake through the winter. We'll then hunker down for the winter and focus on performing stationary science, such as investigating the soil and rocks we've newly exposed during our extrication driving and participating in radio science experiments to determine whether Mars's core is liquid or solid. (Incidentally, how freaking cool is that?!)

    After about six months of stationary science observations, we'll start moving again, at least within a small area. If Spirit feels up to it, we might even get properly back on the road again next year, though her mobility will always be limited -- relative to what she used to be able to achieve -- by the fact that she now has two broken wheels, not just one. That second wheel failure was what put the kibosh on our first serious attempts at extrication from the "Troy" sand pit. We now have a workaround that has been showing some real promise; there's just not enough time to complete that path before winter stops us.

    As an important caveat, that "six months of stationary science" will be extended by however long Spirit goes into a low-power mode for the winter. We are likely not to hear from her at all for about six months, and during that time she can't make the observations that will contribute to the stationary science plan, so she'll probably be sitting still for an Earth year or so. Worst of all, during that low-power period, she might die: lack of energy means insufficient heating means components operating below design temperatures means, possibly, end of life. But if she survives that, she'll move again.

    In summary: Grandma was already limping, and now she's broken her leg. She's also probably going to go into a coma for a while. But we've known her a long time and she's a feisty sucker; don't ever, ever count her out.

  • Rooba (Score:3, Funny)

    by marciot (598356) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:22PM (#30913520)

    They should send a Roomba to Mars. Vacuum up all that pesky red sand.

  • by Kazymyr (190114) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @09:47AM (#30917178) Journal

    ... their spirit is broken?

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