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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the keeps-going-and-going-and-going dept.
s31523 writes "The Mars rover Opportunity has beaten the original record of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of Mars, originally set by the Viking 1 Lander. While the Spirit rover has been on the surface longer than the Opportunity by three weeks, it has been out of communication since March 22. If Spirit comes back online, it will attain the new Martian surface longevity record. This feat, right on the heels of another longevity feat (Voyager 2 and twin on the verge of entering interstellar space and still kicking) is healing some of NASA's past black eyes. It is quite remarkable given original spec of 90 days for the mission. With the passing of the solstice, warmer temperatures and more sun will likely mean the rover will continue on."
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Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record

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  • Go technology go! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JDSalinger (911918) * on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:44PM (#32297646)
    Feats like the Mars Rovers show us that our space-engineering prowess is not only continuing to mature, but indeed getting quite robust. From this one mission alone, how much have we learned about vehicle design for dealing with the Martian environment?

    And with yesterday's announcement of the creation of synthetic life, we are obviously on the edge of new breath-taking scientific ability. When will we be able to start creating custom bacteria to begin terra-forming mars? I know there is no way to predict the future, but the potential for change in our life-times is mind-blowing. As an anxious futurist, all I can say is "Go technology go!"
    • by Pharmboy (216950)

      Feats like the Mars Rovers show us that our space-engineering prowess is not only continuing to mature, but indeed getting quite robust.

      I don't doubt we are getting better at building equipment that can stand the rigors of space or Mars (better alloys, better lubricants, better electronics, simple design) but this also says something about our ability (or lack thereof) to estimate the durability of the things we build. Lasting twice as long as we expect is a great thing, lasting 25x as long means they wer

      • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:34PM (#32298422)
        Ah, just as i suspected, the age old 'they failed, it was over engineered, it should have only lasted 95 days, blah blah blah' shtick.
        For the umpteenth time, *it was deliberate* they knew they could not get approval for the budget for a rover designed to last years and years, because of the long standing 'what if it breaks early? then the money is wasted right?' attitude.
        NASA knew what it would cost to build a decent rover, so they pitched it at 90 days, that way if it flakes out, it does not look like a huge failure.
        They build an excellent rover on (what is thought to be) a 90 day rover budget, send it up, and 95 days later, they can say 'look! this 90 day rover we made is doing great! it well outlasted our expectations! its way cheeper for us to keep driving it around than to build a new one and send it, can we get a little more funding?' I'm confident NASA knew full well what it was doing when it built and sent these rovers. (They probably even had at least rough outlines of things to do with them in the event of an extended project life.)
        • by tomhudson (43916)

          Plus, it's not like lasting 25x as long takes 25x as much engineering.

          Though next time, they should send them in pairs (a sort of "buddy system"). Have them normally maintain a separation of, say, 50 to 500 feet, but be able to pull each other out of a situation where a wheel gets stuck, maybe have one of them equipped with a feather duster to brush off the solar cells for both of them, etc.

          Imagine putting 50 of these down and having them just do a march across the desert ... at 1000 feet separation,

        • by Morty (32057) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:27PM (#32302332) Journal

          In general, NASA builds most spacecraft to considerably higher spec than required to perform the primary mission. This is a basic engineering principle called safety margin. If you calculate that a bridge needs to handle a load of X, then you build it to actually handle 3X.

          Spacecraft that complete their primary missions become eligible to do extended mission, usually at a reduced budget. Most spacecraft that survive their primary mission do end up going into extended mission. The primary mission is the set of scientific observations that spacecraft are funded to do. The extended mission is a collection of observations that we do given that we are already "there".

          This might seem odd, but actually makes a lot of sense. A lot of the mission cost is up-front cost -- designing instruments, launch vehicle, ground systems, calibration, systems integration, etc. So build the actual spacecraft a whole lot better than spec to make sure all those other costs don't get wasted if something unexpected occurs. Then, after the primary mission, you find yourself with an incredibly expensive asset uniquely placed to do scientific observations, which has just proven itself capable of providing lots of scientific data -- so do you shut it down, or keep pulling value out of it as long as you can?

          Disclaimer: I speak for myself, not my employer or work site.

      • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday May 21, 2010 @05:25PM (#32299278) Homepage

        Feats like the Mars Rovers show us that our space-engineering prowess is not only continuing to mature, but indeed getting quite robust.

        I don't doubt we are getting better at building equipment that can stand the rigors of space or Mars (better alloys, better lubricants, better electronics, simple design) but this also says something about our ability (or lack thereof) to estimate the durability of the things we build. Lasting twice as long as we expect is a great thing, lasting 25x as long means they were afraid to give a real estimate.

        The rovers were engineered to survive 90 sols (Martian solar days) under worst-case conditions.

        Turns out that the conditions they actually experience were not as bad as worst case.

        Most notably, they were designed to operate in the (solar-energy-positive conditions) of Martian summer. They were definitely not designed to survive Martian winter. The fact that they were able to survive Martian winter is a tribute to, yes, the fact that the engineers overdesigned (partly, the fact that they overdesigned to withstand worst-case summer condidtions that didn't actually occur), partly that components used actually do continue to perform despite being well outside the design envelope (nobody had ever subjected the rechangable lithium batteries to these extreme cycles, until we did it on Mars), and partly by great work on the part of the operations crew. And then, after that, it was due to the fact that Mars cooperated by cleaning our solar arrays.

        Kind of like how Scotty says "It will take 8 hours to get it fixed, Captain!", to which Kirk says "You have 2 hours", and yet it still gets fixed. The engineers are likely underestimating the "average" time to cover their own butts.

        No, it's not a "cover your butt"-- it's the fact that if you are given a spec of, say 900 Martian days, the review board is going to require that the engineers show test results before launch proving that they will meet that spec-- on most of the components, this means testing to three times the design life. For an environment for which a lot of the conditions are not completely known, and so you'll have to test for worst case conditions. This would balloon the cost up unreasonably.

        This actually makes it *harder* to get some science done, as you are scrambling to create new tasks with the extra time you weren't expecting, never knowing when it will give up the ghost.

        In some ways this is true-- it would be nice to know how long the mission was going to last, if for no other reason than to know for how long I needed to rent an apartment in Pasadena. For MER, however, the team has had no problems coming up with new things to do with the extra time.

      • by fbartho (840012)

        As an Engineer myself I find your comment irritating. Sure any organization that has lived for a respectable amount of time has a certain percentage of people continuously trying to cover their asses. The thing you missed is that NASA wasn't asking the Engineers "how long can it last?" They were telling the Engineers "it must last 90 days, weigh less than X, take up Y space, generate no more than Z interference, cost less than C...". Having a hard stop of lasting 90days and throwing engineers at the proble

        • by Pharmboy (216950)

          To be honest, I had not thought of it as you present it: NASA set the spec for 90 days, and the engineers simply over-delivered. And obviously, we had some good luck for a change with the solar panels staying cleaner than anticipated. Of course, that wouldn't have mattered if the rest of the craft had not been built so incredibly well.

          My bad. I stand corrected.

    • by hitmark (640295)

      it also shows that well maintained tech can last for a long time, contrary to the "common wisdom" of the consumer culture.

  • Live long and prosper.
    • I think we need a 'Mars Rovers: Battle In The Red Sand' fight to the death match. The victor will get the longevity record. The loser? A nice parting gift of new solar panels and a front row seat to the next MArs battle royale.
  • Probably outlast Microsoft for that matter.
    • by Jeng (926980)

      define outlast.

      Are you talking about the physical object Opportunity, regardless of function?

      Or are saying that Opportunity will function longer than an operating system? Cause that makes absolutely zero sense. How in the hell would you even measure the lifetime of an operating system? By first install to last install? By how long Microsoft supports the OS? By how long the physical disk is usable, and if so in which environment? From boot to reboot? You have left my mind in a boggle.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        I think there's a good possibility that Microsoft will drop support for Windows 7 before NASA drops support for Opportunity. I doubt, however, that Opportunity will still be functioning when Microsoft declares bankruptcy in 2148....

  • This feat ... is healing some of NASA's past black eyes. It is quite remarkable given original spec of 90 days for the mission.

    Until some congressional asshat takes a look and argues "NASA builds things to last 25 times longer than specified. Ergo they are spending too much and their budget is 25 times higher than it should be."

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In response to a recent propaganda barrage from the Blue World, K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, spake thus:

    "It has been seventeen years since the first pair of invaders from the blue planet dug the first trenches into our soil. Seventeen years during which we have waged war and succesfully held them at bay. Three years ago since this pair of mobile abominations landed. One has already been frozen in place forever, and the second is still half a year's drive from the defensive troops currently massing

  • by digitalsushi (137809) <slashdot@digitalsushi.com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:11PM (#32298060) Journal

    It's remarkable in that M.O. Scotty tells Geordi in that novel turned episode, Relics:

    from imdb:

    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Look, Mr. Scott, I'd love to explain everything to you. But the captain wants this spectrographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
    Scotty: [thinks about it some time] You mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Yeah. Well, I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.
    Scotty: How long would it really take?
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: [annoyed] An hour!
    Scotty: [looks unbelieving] Oh. You didn't tell him how long it would REALLY take, did you?
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Of course I did.
    Scotty: Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

    NASA Young Guy: This thing should last for 6 years easy!
    NASA Old Guy: Er my young peer means it should definitely last for 90 days. Anything past 90 days is amazing.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday May 21, 2010 @05:18PM (#32299190) Homepage

      Haha, yeah you're so right, except for how you're totally wrong.

      90 days never had anything to do with how long the rover's parts would last. Not a single damned thing. No engineer ever said "I can only guarantee this part will last for 90 days" or anything like it.

      90 days was how long they thought it would be until the solar panels were too coved in dust for the rover to function. When the Martian wind turned out to be strong enough to clear the panels, NASA issued a press release and said "We were wrong; yay!" and the mission continued.

      And not knowing what the environment on Mars was like is exactly why there was never any Scotty-esque sandbagging, and instead the rovers were simply designed as robustly as possible, with a hypothetical lifespan of many years, simply to ensure they worked at all.

      • Are you drunk?

        No engineer ever said "I can only guarantee this part will last for 90 days" or anything like it.

        Yes, they did:

        90 days was how long they thought it would be until the solar panels were too coved in dust for the rover to function.

        SAME THING. That is “how long it will last”

        I even read a quote by some NASA guy, saying exactly that the 90 days was the time they could guarantee the panels to last in the expected dust.

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          SAME THING. That is "how long it will last"

          Only in the broadest most general sense, and not one relating to how the rover itself was speced.

          There's a huge difference between predicting that a part will only last so long before failing, versus predicting that too much sand will build up for a perfectly functioning part to do its job. There's a difference between saying that a solar panel will fail vs that there won't be enough light for solar panels. There's a difference between saying sensors will only la

  • by zorro-z (1423959) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:11PM (#32298062)
  • I bought donuts for Spirit's overtaking of the record, I guess I did so prematurely.
  • so what's the point reporting it periodically? It's not like it's competing with something else than its own's.
  • This thing has an Earth-based identical twin they use to test situations, right? ... Can we send *that* to go fix the frakking oil leak??

  • (Don't answer that!)

    Actually I remember in '04 ('05?) that they had to update the software and only gave the Spirit five more months of life.
  • JPL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poly_pusher (1004145) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:50PM (#32298706)
    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]



    This success is due to Nasa's JPL or Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The successes they have had over the past decade are astounding. I see this as more proof that remote missions are more practical in the short term as opposed to manned missions. Just give JPL some more money and let them do their thing. These are the guys that will discover what we need to know, so as to make manned spaceflight practical.

    As a side note, I saw a documentary on spirit and opportunity recently. It was one of the most entertaining and surprisingly dramatic documentaries I have seen.

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/welcome-mars/ [topdocumentaryfilms.com]
    • by ColaMan (37550)

      The successes they have had over the past decade are astounding.

      Nevermind the fact that Opportunity has only won the longevity race because a software update to Viking I by (cough) JPL essentially bricked it, by accidentally overwriting its antenna pointing code with updated battery conditioning routines.

      I notice in all of JPL's press releases about Viking I that they don't mention this little factoid, just that they lost contact and made it a 'memorial base'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      This success is due to Nasa's JPL or Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The successes they have had over the past decade are astounding. I see this as more proof that remote missions are more practical in the short term as opposed to manned missions. Just give JPL some more money and let them do their thing. These are the guys that will discover what we need to know, so as to make manned spaceflight practical.

      It's also worth noting that JPL is NASA's only FederallyFunded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) [wikipedia.org], a type of organization which is quite a bit more flexible and competitive than the typical NASA Center. The Aldridge Commission [wikipedia.org] from 2004 suggested that NASA restructure and turn all of its centers into FFRDCs, but this proposal was quickly killed in Congress as it's much more difficult for pork to be guaranteed for FFRDCs:

      http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/moontomars/docs/M2MReportScreenFinal.pdf [unt.edu]

      (b) NASA Centers. A second cluster of organizational tasks is to ensure that NASA's ten Centers
      and their related field facilities are deployed appropriately in supporting the exploration vision.
      Properly engaged, these facilities and their workforce provide indispensable resources and talent.
      Centers are also powerful economic engines at the state and local level that should help meet mission
      objectives and help grow a robust space industry.
      As currently organized, NASA's Centers are not optimally configured to carry out the nation's space
      exploration vision. They have Apollo-era infrastructure that needs substantial modernization. They
      lack institutional incentives that continuously align performance with the vision's need. Personnel
      practices have too often ossified, placing insufficient priority on innovation, professional growth,
      and managerial mobility. In some instances, they support duplicative capabilities that unnecessarily
      raise NASA's cost to the taxpayers. The Centers, as with the rest of NASA, must also contend
      with the reality that a large portion of the workforce is now or will soon be eligible for retirement.
      In short, the Centers must be renewed, empowered, focused, and more effectively leveraged in support
      of future space exploration and scientific discovery.
      The Commission proposes a new model for the NASA Centers. We feel that NASA should transition
      its Centers through an open, competitive process, to become Federally Funded Research and
      Development Centers (FFRDCs).
      FFRDCs provide a tested, proven management structure in which many of the federal government's
      most successful and innovative research, laboratory, technical support, and engineering institutions
      thrive. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is currently so configured, as are the Department of Energy's/QT

  • NASA will pay for a 90 day mission. 1 day of operating expenses costs x dollars. NASA probably would not pay the operating cost of a 6+ year mission. So you they built these things for longevity, knowing very well the mission would be more than 90 days. Once your on Mars making headlines, who's going to agree to pull the plug...? No one.

Computers will not be perfected until they can compute how much more than the estimate the job will cost.

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