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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars Rover Spirit May Never Wake From Deep Sleep 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the borrow-my-alarm-clock,-that'll-do-it dept.
astroengine writes "After repeated calls from NASA to wake up Mars Exploration Rover Spirit from its low-energy hibernation mode, mission control is beginning to realize the ill-fated robot may never wake up again. After getting stuck in a sand trap in Gusev Crater and then switching into hibernation in March, rover operators were hopeful that the beached Spirit might yet be saved. Alas, this is looking more and more unlikely. In a statement, NASA said: 'Based on models of Mars' weather and its effect on available power, mission managers believe that if Spirit responds, it most likely will be in the next few months. However, there is a very distinct possibility Spirit may never respond.'" Related xkcd strip, in case the headline wasn't anthropomorphic enough for you.
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Mars Rover Spirit May Never Wake From Deep Sleep

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  • by Titoxd (1116095) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:33PM (#33096290) Homepage
    Those were the longest 90 days ever. Good job to everyone all around, although I imagine it will be a bit weird for the rover team to all of a sudden not have a rover to take care of...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:33PM (#33096296)

    He can go reboot it, right? I know it is the weekend, but it's obviously part of his job duties.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by 0123456 (636235)

      He can go reboot it, right? I know it is the weekend, but it's obviously part of his job duties.

      Don't worry, the rovers never went to Mars, this is all being faked at Area 51. They'll have it rebooted by Monday.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        No wonder the space program doesn't seem to be doing any progress lately. They should be at Area 92 by now!

    • by jd (1658)

      I suggest calling AAA. All they need is a tow truck and a jump start.

    • by KiloByte (825081) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @06:49PM (#33098082)

      Seriously, why don't we just send a guy to give the rover a push?

      The technology is there, that we don't send a man there is just a matter of politics.

      And, one of better plans I heard was to send a crew there with an one- way ticket (initially). For any multi-stage flights, the amount of gear, fuel and complexity rises expotentially with the number of stages: every stage has to include the oomph needed to carry not only the payload, but also all the gear+consumables for subsequent stages. Cutting that number by half would reduce the costs and difficulty to a manageable level -- and, you can use the freed space to include a lot of survival and scientific gear and still end up at a tiny fraction of budget needed.

      The crew would sit there, play with their toys, and when they get bored, use 5000 years old technology to build things from local materials. A while later, there would be a next crew (or even an unmanned craft) with no survival gear but just the engines needed for takeoff and return -- it may be possible to produce fuel locally -- perhaps using nuclear power to produce energy for the reactions needed if it can't be gathered in an easy way. The second crew would either stay on Mars or go back together with the first one.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      Why not, Just install linux.

  • I'm gonna sit back and watch a bunch of male geeks get all teary eyed about some robot.

    "Just my allergies, I hate summer".
    • by camperslo (704715)

      I'm gonna sit back and watch a bunch of male geeks get all teary eyed about some robot.

      You laugh now, but if we fail to show compassion the machines will revolt that much sooner.

      On the bright side, maybe some bacteria we brought along will evolve and eventually fix the thing.

      Future hot consumer product from NASA research:

      Dust-eating bacteria for home cleaning

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        You laugh now, but if we fail to show compassion the machines will revolt that much sooner.

        Sooo..... if we had all gathered around in a circle sharing our feelings with Lesbian Seagull playing in the background Skynet would not have turned against us?

  • RIP little buddy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:39PM (#33096320)

    Sad that people are taking so little notice. The two rovers may be the greatest achievement of mankind to date. Lasting this long is beyond heroic. They may be robots but they have both shown a stubborn determination that is impressive for man or machine. He'll be missed and I think we all wish his brother well. They'll be decades going over the data generated but the two lonely robots, one now apparently sleeping for all time.

    • I'm not qualified to determine what is the greatest achievement of mankind to date is, but my vote wouldn't be these rovers. They are a great achievement regardless, and at the level of these rovers, it seems silly to try to rank achievements. Walking on the moon certainly had a greater emotional impact for the average person than this, but knowledge gained from projects such as Hubble, Pioneer, Voyager, Viking, and Kepler is considerable, and current and future missions similar to these projects, to me,
    • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:21PM (#33096554)
      The two rovers may be the greatest achievement of mankind to date.

      I vote for curry as number one, that's easy. Then it gets a bit harder but I suspect there is a looong list of mankind's achievements ahead of a robot stuck on Mars.
    • If I had to rate achievements in space exploration, the greatest would still be putting men on the moon.

      First, because it was done in less than ten years after the project started.

      Second, because it has never been repeated since 1972.

      Third, because technology was more primitive. No carbon fiber and many other structural materials developed since then, very primitive computers.

      And last but not least, because it came before the Mars landings. The technology developed for landing on the Moon was fundamental fo

    • by dtml-try MyNick (453562) <litheran@@@gmail...com> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @04:06PM (#33097210)

      Wish I could mod you up 10 times.

      The majority of people haven't got the slightest idea that A: these robots even exist and B: even if they do what kind of achievement it is.
      The scale and precision of this operation is mindboggling.

      The distances, the numerous variables and sensitivities involved is something that I, as just a layman, can't even begin to comprehend.

      But I can sit back, read and watch about it and for once be proud of the human race. Be in awe what good and positive things, however hard they might be, we as humans can accomplish if we really set our minds to it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "The majority of people haven't got the slightest idea that A: these robots even exist and B: even if they do what kind of achievement it is."

        I wouldn't have believed that a couple of months ago, but I recently went back home to visit family and attend a high school reunion. When people asked where I was working I would tell them the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, feeling that just saying JPL would be a little presumptuous. Quite often I would get a blank look even at that. Then I'd say "NASA," which seemed

    • Re:RIP little buddy (Score:5, Informative)

      by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @06:54PM (#33098108) Journal

      The two rovers may be the greatest achievement of mankind to date. Lasting this long is beyond heroic. They may be robots but they have both shown a stubborn determination that is impressive for man or machine.

      Speaking of which: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

      "On June 28, 2010, Voyager 2 completed 12,000 days of continuous operations since its launch on August 20, 1977. For nearly 33 years, the venerable spacecraft has been returning unprecedented data about the giant outer planets, the properties of the solar wind between and beyond the planets and the interaction of the solar wind with interstellar winds in the heliosheath. Having traveled more than 21 billion kilometers on its winding path through the planets toward interstellar space, the spacecraft is now nearly 14 billion kilometers from the sun. Traveling at the speed of light, a signal from the ground takes about 12.8 hours to reach the spacecraft."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      Sad that people are taking so little notice. The two rovers may be the greatest achievement of mankind to date. Lasting this long is beyond heroic. They may be robots but they have both shown a stubborn determination that is impressive for man or machine. He'll be missed and I think we all wish his brother well. They'll be decades going over the data generated but the two lonely robots, one now apparently sleeping for all time.

      If we restrict our attention to space matters, the Apollo program was a greater achievement. If we don't restrict our attention at all, then there are a vast number of greater achievements, for example, the creation of the US university system or modern public sanitation. Also the attention the rovers receive is quite adequate. For example, there are a large number of stories on Slashdot about them.

      I'm being a killjoy here because I think we need to keep things in context. The MER project has been very p

      • "modern public sanitation" - That was my first thought but then tying a sharp rock to a stick was a pretty awsome achievment for a long forgotten apeman. Of course it's all subjective opinion, I think the rovers are a fantasic achievment but they're not in my top ten.
  • Although this news is of course potentially bad news, the lifetime of the Spirit robot exceeded all expectations. I think the original programme was more in the order of months than the years it has been successfully transmitting data now.

    Everyone knew that this moment was going to come, so I bet the people working with the robot will be sad, but have planned something new in their lives. Next year for example, NASA is going to launch another Mars rover.

  • by sphealey (2855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:44PM (#33096346)

    > "After repeated calls from NASA to wake up Mars Exploration Rover
    > Spirit from its low-energy hibernation mode, mission control is beginning
    > to realize the ill-fated robot may never wake up again.

    I would wish to have such ill-fate as exceeding my predicted lifetime by a factor of 10x and accomplishing 20x more than believed possible within that lifetime.

    sPh

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by kamukwam (652361)
      I guess that is the way to create a success-story. Just have very low expectations and it will always exceed expectations. I don't know if NASA did it on purpose, but it has played out very well, these robots.
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      I would wish to have such ill-fate as exceeding my predicted lifetime by a factor of 10x and accomplishing 20x more than believed possible within that lifetime.

      I'm sure it's somehow possible with Emacs.

  • The rovers weren't made to last forever! They have far-exceeded their design life, and have given us a lot of data to help decide our next step in the conquest of Mars.

    I think we can raise a glass and toast the team for a job well done. If only all NASA missions were this successful, we'd have nothing to complain about!

  • Awwwww... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Dee Ann_1 (1731324)
    >> "Related xkcd strip, in case the headline wasn't anthropomorphic enough for you."

    Poor baby.... :-(

    I feel sad for the poor little thing. I hope one day someone can go rescue all these poor little waifs that we abandon on alien worlds..
  • "ill-fated?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joehonkie (665142) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:54PM (#33096404) Homepage
    I don't think "ill-fated" is a term you would use for something that performed far beyond expectations.
    • by Reilaos (1544173)

      My general methods for outperforming expectation are to ensure low ones to begin with. How certain are we that the same did not happen here?

  • Die in my sleep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by countertrolling (1585477) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:05PM (#33096456) Journal

    Can't think of a better way to go...

    R.I.P.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      Can't think of a better way to go...

      R.I.P.

      Heart attack while having casual sex with a stranger?

      Manually detonating a nuclear device on an asteroid in Earth collision course, thus saving humanity from extinction?

      Blasted away by frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads?

      I'm not saying dying while sleeping is bad, but it's certainly not the best way to go.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by KlaymenDK (713149)

        When I die, I'd like to go peacefully in my sleep, like grandpa.

        Not screaming and panicking, like his passengers. (badum-tish)

      • Heart attack after having casual sex with a stranger.
  • Duh... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Use Opportunity to jostle Spirit toward the sun again.

    Thanks, I'll be consulting for NASA all week!

  • Human nature (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:06PM (#33096466)
    I was involved with this project when the rovers where still being built. When you build or are otherwise involved in something you really believe in like this you can't help anthropomorphizing them.

    To most its just a machine, a worthless hunk of metal, but to those who put there hearts and souls into this program those rovers are almost as precious as children. Its part of human nature to imbue objects with an identity, a soul, just look at how people treat cars, plans, boats, etc..

    Sprite and Opportunity carried more than just a bunch of electronics to Mars, they carried the dreams and hopes of all those who choose join it in its journey.

    To those, like myself, who consider the rovers to be more than the sum of their parts it will be a very sad day when Sprite is officially listed as dead. And to those who would laugh at us because they can't care for anything beyond themselves or limit their love to only humans, I pity you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by _Stryker (15742)

      Ummm, isn't it named Spirit, not Sprite? Are you sure you were really involved with this project when they were "still being built"?

      • by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:30PM (#33096608)
        Whoops! My bad.

        I am going to get (deservedly) ripped for this aren't I?

        I plead diminished capacity, I was only on my first cup of coffee.
        • by jd (1658)

          That's what you get for using decaf. Me, I say tea is better than coffee anyway. But since I come from the same country as Monty Python, this may not reflect well on my sanity.

        • I'm just glad that I'm not the only person who gets attached to the things I've created. *whew* From the Earth to the Moon Episode 5.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by badboy_tw2002 (524611)

      Apparently you weren't there when they renamed the rovers after the soft-drink advertising fell through. Someone managed to save costs though and only redo the lettering just a little bit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by E-Sabbath (42104)

      One day, it will wake up again. We just need to get physical access. I say we build a museum around each of them.

  • Sigh! (Score:4, Informative)

    by camperdave (969942) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:09PM (#33096486) Journal
    Spirit isn't stuck in the sand. It's hung up on a rock. The wheels cannot get any traction.
    • Re:Sigh! (Score:5, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:49PM (#33096712) Homepage

      Spirit isn't stuck in the sand. It's hung up on a rock. The wheels cannot get any traction.

      Partly right, partly wrong. She's hung up on a rock because she got stuck in stand - and attempts to drive out only dug her in deeper until she became hung up on a rock.

      • by PPH (736903)

        How much down force can the RAT arm produce? If it's enough, they could get the rover unstuck the same way a backhoe can push itsef out of a hole it can't drive out of.

        • Given that all of the main instruments need to perform the rover's mission are at the end of arm...

          • by PPH (736903)

            Given that all of the main instruments need to perform the rover's mission are at the end of arm...

            The RAT should be able to handle a certain amount of load without breaking. After all, its designed to grind rock. And even if you break one instrument, the others will probably survive. And even if you break them all, the rover can still drive around and take photos. Which may be better than sitting in a hole for eternity.

            Or maybe not. A stuck rover is a good excuse for NASA to wind down funding on one team for a program that went way beyond its planned 90 days.

    • by mangu (126918)

      If you look at the photo in TFA you'll see that the wheel on the upper left side is sunk in sand up to the hub, and there's a sand mound behind it. That pretty much satisfies my definition of "stuck in the sand".

      If that wheel were sitting on the surface instead of half buried in the sand, like the other wheel is, Spirit would clear that rock.

  • by MadGeek007 (1332293) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:14PM (#33096510)
    Sounds like a plot for a Disney|PIXAR movie. WALL-E meets Sleeping Beauty?
  • As a result, the heaters were able to keep internal temperatures above minus 40 degrees Celsius (which is also minus 40 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale).

    Have they tried overclocking?

  • Forgive me (Score:3, Funny)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:21PM (#33096552)
    Have you tried turning it off and on again?
    • by EdIII (1114411)

      I'm pretty sure that Dell Tech Support is the first thing NASA tried.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yah, but now there are 100's of nudes of spirit on the net. Stupid Dell Support.

  • After getting stuck in a sand trap in Gusev Crater and then switching into hibernation in March, rover operators were hopeful that the beached Spirit might yet be saved. Alas, this is looking more and more unlikely.

    Grr, I hate sand traps. Whose bright idea was it to put one on Mars?

    Did they try whacking at it with a sand wedge?

    • by PPH (736903)

      We could ask Tiger Woods to help get it out.

      No. On second though, he'll just drive it into a tree.

  • Must run an older linux kernel...I could never get suspend/hibernate to work either.....
  • Until the hansom rover prince comes by and awakens it with a kiss ....
  • Oblig. xkcd (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    http://xkcd.co... oh wait.

  • Morphos=shape or form. Spirit isn't shaped or formed like a human.

    Yeah, I know. "Anthropomorphic" has been taken to mean things beyond merely human form, to include behaviors and personalities. But "Anthropopathic" is a perfectly good word that talks about human-like feelings and works quite well almost every place the other one is used.

  • In retrospect, the Mars rover was build well outside design requirements, making it probably heavier and more expensive than absolutely necessary. Thus it was a design failure.

    On the other hand, the 3 month mission length was decided by politicians so the engineers did the good thing, because if it is already there and working the budget for a longer mission will come anyway (for a few million we can extend a billion dollar mission for a few months sounds really good then).

    • On the other hand, the 3 month mission length was decided by politicians so the engineers did the good thing, because if it is already there and working the budget for a longer mission will come anyway (for a few million we can extend a billion dollar mission for a few months sounds really good then).

      Huh? In projects there is something called a budget. The original budget for MER was $820 million. There are also objectives. [wikipedia.org] It is always a balancing act to whether the budget is large or small enough to accomplish the objectives. Based on the budget and objectives, the mission (not politicians) planned a 3 month mission with two rovers. That is, the scientists and engineers (as well as the bureaucrats) estimated that they accomplish most if not all the objectives in the time (and money) allocated.

      In retrospect, the Mars rover was build well outside design requirements, making it probably heavier and more expensive than absolutely necessary. Thus it was a design failure.

      Wh

    • by brasselv (1471265)

      In retrospect, the Mars rover was build well outside design requirements, making it probably heavier and more expensive than absolutely necessary. Thus it was a design failure.

      Under this same logic, Egyptian pyramids are a total engineering failure, because most likely there was no requirement for them to last 4000+ years.

      • by KlaymenDK (713149)

        Under this same logic, Egyptian pyramids are a total engineering failure, because most likely there was no requirement for them to last 4000+ years.

        Are you sure? I was under the impression that they built those tombs exactly so that they *would* provide eternal shelter for the bodily remains, which the afterlife-god is somehow still dependent upon.

        • by brasselv (1471265)

          Under this same logic, Egyptian pyramids are a total engineering failure, because most likely there was no requirement for them to last 4000+ years.

          Are you sure? I was under the impression that they built those tombs exactly so that they *would* provide eternal shelter for the bodily remains, which the afterlife-god is somehow still dependent upon.

          Fair point - what I am reasonably sure about, though, is the following.
          The ability to contemplate time spans in the order of the thousands years, is a modern one.
          I speculate that the idea of *eternity* that an Egyptian could have, probably translates into an engineering requirement of 'some generations'.

  • So much for that wind generated heating system.
  • by ScottMaxwell (108831) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @05:46PM (#33097720) Homepage

    We never particularly expected to hear from Spirit before this coming October +/- 1 month, making the suggestion that we're "beginning to realize she might never wake up again" more than a little misleading. According to our best models, the energy levels on Mars are just barely reaching the point where Spirit might wake up for even a few minutes a day, and hearing anything from her at this point would be a great stroke of luck. Have patience. She's there.

    I understand that NASA is trying to manage expectations, but their way of doing it is bad management that needlessly demoralizes the team. My own personal expectation is that we damn well will hear from Spirit, and after a certain recovery period she'll be moving on Mars again.

    • Now now, perhaps NASA is just being optimistic that an unexpectedly long and protracted drain on their funds might FINALLY be coming to an end.

      From more recent missions it kind of appears that they are taking steps now to avoid any future repetition of this unacceptably high level of success.

      G.

  • "We believe in Spirit"
    "We believe in Spirit"
  • ....we'll actually send someone there, and knowing how humanity can be, whoever it is will wipe the dust off the solar panels (or attach an pocket atomic battery), and with the help of a hydraulic jack, the rover will resume its mission.

    We will know other things by then, but we'll still be glad for the messages it sends.

    Until then, a round of applause - and heartfelt gratitude - to the team that made a 90 day mission feel like a lifetime.
  • Ctrl + Alt + Del

    Come on..... Don't NASA engineers know how to reboot after a system hang?!

  • Sorry, but to imply that they might just now have thought of the concept of "not enough energy, rover dead" is laughable.

    Beginning to accept, yes. Beginning to realize, no.

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