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Mars NASA Science

New Mars Rover Rolls For the First Time 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the keep-them-doggies-rollin dept.
wooferhound writes "Like proud parents savoring their baby's very first steps, mission team members gathered in a gallery above a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to watch the Mars Curiosity rover roll for the first time. Engineers and technicians wore bunny suits while guiding Curiosity through its first steps, or more precisely, its first roll on the clean room floor. The rover moved forward and backward about 1 meter (3.3 feet). Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) is scheduled to launch in fall 2011 and land on the Red Planet in August 2012. Curiosity is the largest rover ever sent to Mars. It will carry 10 instruments that will help search an intriguing region of the Red Planet for two things: environments where life might have existed, and the capacity of those environments to preserve evidence of past life."
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New Mars Rover Rolls For the First Time

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  • Re:Wheels (Score:3, Informative)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:13PM (#33087238) Homepage

    I've always wondered why the rovers aren't designed with bigger wheels and bubble-ish tires (not saying they have to be inflated) like on a truck outfitted for work in a swamp.

    Because, among other reasons, there's only so much available to work with. Bigger tires means less room available for something else - or you have to accept complex (and potentially failure prone) inflating/unfolding mechanisms. (Which are going to up the cost.)
     
    Designing a spacecraft is a complex trade off between hundreds of factors.

  • Re:Hope they fix.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by blahbooboo (839709) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:38PM (#33087652)

    Hope they fix the dust collecting on the solar panels issue. Something as simple as compressed air blowing on the panels would do the trick. Since there is a thin atmosphere on Mars, they could just have a little compressor pump the Martian air instead of an air or CO2 canister.

    Yes, it's nuclear powered... problem solved :)

  • Re:Wheels (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:41PM (#33087732) Homepage Journal

    The cost of the mission is largely related to the cost of making and launching the rover. The reason why probes are made of exotic materials and fold up so compactly is that every kilogram costs tens of thousands of dollars to launch into space, and increased physical size means a larger & heavier shell. The increased cost of materials is more than made up by the reduced cost of fuel. The bigger and heavier the rover, the more it costs to send it to Mars. They can only get so much budget for a project, so they make the project fit the budget as well as they can. The successes appear to have made it easier to get more money for larger successive missions.

    Sojourner did pretty darn well against expectations and it had smaller wheels . Spirit and Opportunity were considerably larger and it greatly exceeded expectations in terms of what it discovered and how long they lasted.

  • Re:Wheels (Score:4, Informative)

    by Digicrat (973598) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:41PM (#33087744)

    Me thinks there is something wrong with that picture. *ALL* of them are wearing dust suits and walking around on static mats. Im sorry it is going to be sitting outside in a rather harsh environment. If you need to take that amount of care now perhaps there is something wrong? I can understand taking care building it but that makes me think it will fail later on when put in a mars dust storm.

    The reason for the bunny suits at this stage is NOT to protect it against damage from dust, but to prevent contamination. If we're sending a probe to another planet to search for traces of life, the last thing we want is to "discover" life that we brought with us in the first place. Hence all spacecraft (or rover) components are handled in the most sterile of environments.

    The mats in those photos are probably to ensure it doesn't roll over any lingering dust on the floor and to mark where people (in bunny suits) shouldn't work, I doubt those are actually anti-static mats, or if they are if that's the main purpose in there.

  • Re:Wheels (Score:3, Informative)

    by ThatMegathronDude (1189203) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:05PM (#33088214)
    rubber is a complex polymer that degrades on exposure to UV. the radiation background in transit and on the surface of Mars spells certain doom for the kind of rubber you see in tires.
  • by mandark1967 (630856) on Friday July 30, 2010 @03:39PM (#33088890) Homepage Journal

    And everytime I see a post like this I think of The Ariane 5 Flight 501 failure (integer overflow error, LOL!) and ask myself will they step into the 20th century and ever put someone on the moon?

    Greetings from the United States.

  • Re:Overweaning care (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:42PM (#33092132) Homepage

    I understand it fine. Which is why I don't understand why the thing isn't made so bulletproof that you could test the wheels with the entire crew jumping up and down on top of the rover.

    Because then it'd be far too heavy.

    There are more consequences of weight than just having to have a (super-linearly) larger rocket, though that is a significant issue given NASA's budget and not something that can be ignored even if it were the only issue.

    The MSL is already so heavy that they can't use the simple airbag landing method they used for Spirit and Opportunity. Instead, they're having to use a pretty crazy method of dangling the rover by a cable from a rocket-propelled landing platform.

    Increase the weight significantly, and that method becomes much harder if not impossible. It's a square-cube problem. The strength of the rover's structure goes up as the cross-sectional area, but the mass -- and thus the force experienced on landing for a given velocity -- goes up as the volume. In a very real sense, your heavier rover is actually weaker when it comes to this aspect of the mission. Which means you need much larger rockets that are simultaneously much more precise in absolute terms, and thus vastly more precise in percentage terms.

    I don't know what related industry you work in, but if weight isn't a dominant issue then it's really not that closely related to space travel.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.

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