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Mars NASA Space Science

Final Attempts To Contact Mars Spirit Rover Fail 95

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the it-had-a-good-run dept.
dotancohen writes "After nearly a year of trying to reestablish communications with the Mars Spirit rover, NASA has decided to suspend efforts. Communications channels used to contact the vehicle (redesignated from "rover" to "spot" when it got stuck in a sand trap) will be used to develop a communications base with the next Mars rover: the ambitious Mars Science Laboratory."
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Final Attempts To Contact Mars Spirit Rover Fail

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  • On the upside (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble.hotmail@com> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:27AM (#36239346)
    They know EXACTLY where it is so when we finally get to Mars we can go get it.
    • by FauxPasIII (75900)

      You assume it hasn't become self-aware and buggered off, Wall-E style.

    • Re:On the upside (Score:5, Interesting)

      by flyingsquid (813711) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:31AM (#36240206)
      They know EXACTLY where it is so when we finally get to Mars we can go get it.

      The final launch of the Endeavour marks the beginning of the end for an era in exploration. And it's sad to see it ending. But the end of the Spirit rover marks something very, very different. And that's the end of the beginning.

      What we're seeing is a major technological transition. A new kind of hardware has emerged that's fundamentally superior to the old technology. It's analogous to stone being replaced by bronze. It's like clipper ships being replaced by steam, or battleships being replaced by carriers. It's like the typewriter being supplanted by the PC. And it's thrilling and deeply disturbing at the same time, because this time around, the hardware upgrade is personal. Very, very personal. Because the outmoded hardware that's being replaced is us.

      The era of manned exploration of the cosmos is coming to an end, and the era of unmanned exploration is beginning in a serious way. Neil Armstrong is the old face of space exploration; Spirit is the new face. We'll get to Mars eventually but when we do it will be thoroughly mapped and analyzed and studied by robots. It won't fundamentally be exploration, it will be more like tourism. People talk about the shortcomings of robotic exploration, and how humans are more adaptible and versatile. Maybe that's true, if you ignore the incredible logistic hurdles required to support fragile flesh-and-bone hardware on a hostile planet. And maybe it's true that human hands are still better than metal manipulators... but only for now. The reality is that by the time we overcome the technological hurdles required to put humans on Mars, the technology of robots will have advanced. And they'll be able to move, to work, to do science, and to explore far more effectively in those environments than we will ever be able to do.

      There's a visceral dislike to this, I know. It's hard to let go of the old idea of exploration, of putting human feet on an unexplored world. But I don't think we're really losing as much as some people fear. It may be unmanned exploration, but it is still human exploration. It's still humans envisioning the rockets, engineering the robots, writing up the software, somehow pulling off this amazing feat of exploration, and wondering at the results. At least, it is for now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Brett Buck (811747)

        The era of manned exploration of the cosmos is coming to an end, and the era of unmanned exploration is beginning in a serious way. Neil Armstrong is the old face of space exploration; Spirit is the new face. We'll get to Mars eventually but when we do it will be thoroughly mapped and analyzed and studied by robots. It won't fundamentally be exploration, it will be more like tourism. People talk about the shortcomings of robotic exploration, and how humans are more adaptible and versatile. Maybe that's true

        • by Kjella (173770)

          It won't fundamentally be exploration, it will be more like tourism.

          Which is why we should skip the tourism stage and concentrate on the colonization stage, which is not pointless. A Mars mission should be an experiment on prototypes for a permanent base, solar panels, greenhouses, habitats, radiation shielding, water recycling, low-G health effects and that sort of thing. If they just go there to eat canned food and take tourist photos, then no.

          As for robots, I don't think there's ever been doubt that there's many places probes can go that humans never will. And for the re

      • And they'll be able to move, to work, to do science, and to explore far more effectively in those environments than we will ever be able to do. ... It's hard to let go of the old idea of exploration, of putting human feet on an unexplored world.

        What you said is well and good for the type of planets we are exploring, like Mars, that are presently uninhabitable easily by humans. Robots can do the initial grunt work followed by humans if the planet proves sufficiently worthwhile for us to visit or inhabit.

        • Re:On the upside (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @02:32PM (#36242836) Homepage Journal

          Good communications, regardless of whether it is from robots or humans, has always been the deciding factor between a success story and a disaster. The 9 mins, 30 secs delay to get from Mars to Earth and then the same in reverse means real-time assisntance is impossible. Having human assistants in orbit or on the ground reduces the delay to practically nothing. Those 19 minutes saved have the potential to salvage a mission.

          Further, most mission-killers are minor failures. A failed motor, a sand trap, an exhausted RTG, dead batteries or a blocked solar panel. A human could fix any of these. The human wouldn't be doing the grunt-work, the human would be enabling the robots to do the grunt-work in as safe and protected a manner as possible. Worker safety isn't just about avoiding lawsuits or being ethical, it's also about getting better-quality work in less time for less expense in the long run.

          Then there's the experiments themselves. A rover can't replace a damaged experiment module or upgrade a module with something more advanced later on. Humans can do that FOR a rover at much less cost and in far less time than building a new rover from scratch. There may also be experiments that you want to occasionally run that require more power than the rover's batteries can provide but where lugging around the extra batteries needed would be impractical. No problem. Humans go to the rover and plug in an external power supply.

          Human-assisted robots are, by far, the best option for exploration of these kinds of worlds.

          Humans in space are also good for deep-space probes. The Voyager and Pioneer probes, excellent demonstrations of success, had problems after launch. In one case, a radio antenna didn't unfurl properly. I seem to recall there was a glitch in an experiment in another. Absolutely nothing for a human in orbit to fix. The former problem caused slower transmission speeds to be used, again costing us valuable data. As successful as they were, they could have been twice that with human assistants.

          (Even The Doctor knows how valuable human assistants are. And that, surely, is the clincher.)

          • Further, most mission-killers are minor failures. A failed motor, a sand trap, an exhausted RTG, dead batteries or a blocked solar panel. A human could fix any of these.

            First off, there's a very simple way to deal with this problem: redundancy. Robots are cheap and expendable, so just send two (or more) of them. One of them gets caught in the sand, the other keeps going, and the mission is saved. That's what NASA did here; Spirit got stuck in the sand but Opportunity is still working. Second, as robots get

            • by jd (1658)

              Self-maintaining machines have been drempt about since the 40s. None exist. Pit a current UAV against a current fighter pilot and I'll tell you which is the more likely to get the job done. Sure, UAVs will eventually get smarter but AI is simply not advanced enough - and won't be for many, many decades - to replace humans for anything more than the most trivial of functions. Current AI can run through identification keys faster or run through simple herustics faster, sure, but that's it.

              I was told in the 70

      • What we're seeing is a major technological transition. A new kind of hardware has emerged that's fundamentally superior to the old technology. It's analogous to stone being replaced by bronze. It's like clipper ships being replaced by steam, or battleships being replaced by carriers. It's like the typewriter being supplanted by the PC. And it's thrilling and deeply disturbing at the same time, because this time around, the hardware upgrade is personal. Very, very personal. Because the outmoded hardware that

        • I recall reading in Steven Squyres' book about how one of the rovers spent an entire week backing and filling so it could photograph a rock from all sides - something a human being could have done in minutes.

          That may be true, but so what? Perhaps the human performs well on Mars, but it would take 10-20 years and 100 billion dollars for us to develop the technology to get the person there. Who would you rather hire: a contractor who takes a week to do a job, charges 100 dollars, and starts today, or a cont

          • I recall reading in Steven Squyres' book about how one of the rovers spent an entire week backing and filling so it could photograph a rock from all sides - something a human being could have done in minutes.

            That may be true, but so what?

            Duh, that robots are nowhere near as efficient as humans. Something I gave several examples of, and which you willfully ignore.

            Perhaps the human performs well on Mars, but it would take 10-20 years and 100 billion dollars for us to develop the technology to get th

            • You have some very romantic, and very wrong, ideas about how capable and cheap robots are.

              Let's talk figures then. Bush's Mars mission was projected to cost $40-$80 billion dollars, which is probably a huge underestimate considering that the International Space Station cost about that much and a space station is a far, far simpler problem. The total cost for putting Spirit and Opportunity on Mars was $800 million. In other words, for the price of a brief manned mission you could put 100-200 rovers on Mars

        • by 2short (466733)

          "Steven Squyres' book about how one of the rovers spent an entire week backing and filling so it could photograph a rock from all sides - something a human being could have done in minutes."

          The humans that drove their rover around that rock via remote control got the photographs a few years ago. If humans using a steering wheel to drive their rover around the rock are so much more efficient, why aren't they anywhere close? If the objective is to get photographs of that rock, humans driving rovers by rem

          • That sound you heard was my point going over your head.

            Certainly a human in direct control would be more efficient if you ignore the cost and difficulty of getting them there and keeping them operational/alive.

            True, and if you paid attention to what I was writing, something I never argued against. The OP was praising the efficiency and effectiveness of robots as compared with humans - without realizing he had transposed his numbers. They aren't as efficient as humans. They aren't as effective as

            • by 2short (466733)

              "That sound you heard was my point going over your head."
              Then why does your reply reiterate exactly the point I thought I understood? To be clear, you're claiming humans exploring Mars via remote probes aren't as efficient or effective as those who do not use remote probes. Please do correct me if this is not you claim, because that is the claim I am arguing against. If that is your claim, please dispense with ridiculing people for not understanding you when they clearly just disagree with you.

              Humans us

      • by jd (1658)

        Manned exploration is largely irrelevant. What is very relevant is the speed of light. A manned outpost on Mars, or indeed anywhere in space near Mars, would be able to collect data real-time, detect obstacles that the robots aren't programmed to avoid, and could potentially repair those robots when they become disabled.

        What is also relevant is bandwidth. Because of all the error-correction needed to salvage data from deep-space communications, the power limitations involved and the heavy restrictions on wh

        • by 2short (466733)

          "Spirit's motor is jammed? No prob, here's a spare."

          No prob, other than establishing a manned base on Mars. If you want to repair the rover, and you've got the budget for a manned outpost on Mars, why not just some entire spare rovers instead? Like a few thousand or so.

          • by jd (1658)

            Because building and running a manned base is (a) relatively cheap, and (b) more reliable as there's fewer components to go wrong.

            A manned base takes adequate radiation shielding (not hard), oxygen scrubbers (NASA's got those), a vehicle capable of going from Martian surface to orbit (similar to the lunar landers), two years of food and a kindle with enough books to last the one year in, one year back (big deal, torrents should work fine using the Delay Tolerant Protocol NASA developed).

            A thousand launchers

            • by 2short (466733)

              "A thousand launchers, alone, would outstrip the cost of such a venture..."

              Look up the cost to put two rovers on mars for the last several years vs. the cost to operate the ISS (in LEO!) over the same time. If you can get a man to Mars for 1 day and back alive for less than 1000 times what Spirit cost, you're way ahead of the state of the art. Do you suggest the cost of a manned presence on Mars ought to be vastly cheaper than a manned presence skimming Earths atmosphere in the ISS?

              • by jd (1658)

                Actually, yes, I do. The cost of reaching escape velocity is fixed, so whether go to the ISS or Mars doesn't change the cost of the launcher at all. The cost of =staying= in orbit is high (you've got to overcome drag, move away from space debris, etc). The cost of staying on the ground is nil, since the base isn't going anywhere. The cost of replacing the men on the ISS is high, the cost of not replacing anyone whilst on-route, at, or returning, from Mars is nil. The cost of assembling hundreds of modules p

                • by 2short (466733)

                  So the IIS would be radically cheaper in a slightly higher orbit? Say 2 * geosyncronous. Drag and space debris there are irrelevant. Weird that the IIS planners didn't want to make it so much cheaper.

                  Skip replacing the crew too and just go for the cost of the unmanned supply drones that are most flights to IIS anyway: it's still orders of magnitude more than sending the rovers to Mars. The number of pounds you have to boost to LEO to keep a man alive for a year is the same if he stays there or keeps

      • by Teancum (67324)

        For myself, I think we are just on the verge of a renewed genuine manned (or "crewed" for the more politically correct crowd) spaceflight expeditions of the future. What the final launch of the Shuttle will imply is the end of the massive big-budget government programs that are stopping mankind from spreading out at least within the solar system.

        Yes, I assert and claim that NASA has done more to stop the expansion of mankind into the cosmos than they have helped, particularly over the past couple of decade

      • I think we're quite a bit farther away from making robots as useful as humans than we are from launching a human mission to Mars.

        As awesome as the rovers are, they're hopelessly, frustratingly inefficient. It's hard to control something located a dozen light minutes away. The total distance traversed by Spirit is 10 km and by Opportunity 27 km. Every single movement must be carefully planned before uploading the command so the rover doesn't get stuck in a sand dune or fall off a cliff somewhere. All the
        • by 2short (466733)

          "All the progress made by the Mars rovers in six years could probably have been accomplished by human astronauts in just a few days"

          Then why didn't they? It's been six years, and there is no indication human astronauts will accomplish the same thing in the next twenty, so your "few days" estimate may be off. When it comes to exploring Mars, moving across the surface and pointing a camera isn't actually the whole task. Getting there and remaining operational/alive are actually part of the problem. Acc

          • That's a very valid point. Astronauts are versatile and orders of magnitude more useful for doing science in situ, but are also orders of magnitude more difficult to transport and keep operational there. Just the little matter of having to return to Earth poses a pretty big challenge.

            On the other hand, if we keep limiting human space presence to low earth orbit then we'll never lower the barrier of getting humans into space - and that's where we want to be, eventually. Unmanned vehicles have their time a
            • by 2short (466733)

              :"we'll never lower the barrier of getting humans into space - and that's where we want to be, eventually"
              Why?

              "Unmanned vehicles have their time and place, but they will only take us so far"
              Further and faster than manned flights.

              "It's like when airplanes replaced ships for long-distance travel"
              I'd say it's like when electronic communications replaced sending letters. Communications got easier because electrons are a better way to transmit information than paper. It's not a matter of waiting until mail de

              • Maybe you're right... But I think you're forgetting something: human space exploration has values beyond the purely rational. Kennedy didn't propose putting a man on the moon because it was useful somehow, he did it to inspire his people, to win the space race against the Soviet Union, and to win votes in future elections. Just look at this speech - if Obama or someone else manages to put together a piece half as inspiring, then I think we will have a human on Mars within 15 years: http://webcast.rice.edu/s [rice.edu]
      • by khallow (566160)

        What we're seeing is a major technological transition. A new kind of hardware has emerged that's fundamentally superior to the old technology. It's analogous to stone being replaced by bronze. It's like clipper ships being replaced by steam, or battleships being replaced by carriers. It's like the typewriter being supplanted by the PC. And it's thrilling and deeply disturbing at the same time, because this time around, the hardware upgrade is personal. Very, very personal. Because the outmoded hardware that's being replaced is us.

        There's an alternate explanation. Namely, that the US and the rest of the world was too cheap to do serious exploration. Humans are far superior to the Mars Exploration Rovers, but humans cost considerably more to deploy and support. If you just want to check off the box "We're exploring Mars," then unmanned missions are cheaper. If you're interested in scientific output per dollar, then manned missions (with considerable unmanned support) are better.

        A key problem which is routinely ignored in this sort

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      You know that first mars colony museum will have a very cool science wing. they already have a pile of stuff for it, just need to drive around and pick them up.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Hasn't the original Viking 1 lander location already been declared a "UNESCO World Heritage Site"?

        To me, however, the more impressive artifacts on Mars would be those vehicles which failed to land properly or failed to transmit the data back to the Earth. There are a couple of Soviet probes that predated the Viking landers as well as a few infamous vehicles sent up by America that would certainly be of interest in that regard.

        That said, Mars is a pretty big place. Its surface area is roughly the same as t

    • by antdude (79039)

      Can it be moved or even buried by winds?

      • by Carnildo (712617)

        Martian winds are nowhere near strong enough to move the rover -- because of the low pressure, even the strongest winds would be just barely perceptible to a human.

        Over the short run (hundreds of years), burying is unlikely: there's nothing near Spirit that's a good enough windbreak to generate a drift covering the rover. The rover will generate its own downwind drifts, but in the short run, those will simply make it easier to find the rover. Over longer terms, it's quite possible that a more distant feat

    • They know EXACTLY where it is so when we finally get to Mars we can go get it.

      Can't be. Because it's stuck, all they know EXACTLY is it's velocity.

  • Spirit did well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:30AM (#36239380) Homepage
    Spirit succeeded well beyond the initial planned for mission that was only supposed to last 90 days. This is a real triumph of engineering. The headline shouldn't be about failure but about how this lasted 20 times as long as it was intended. Oh, and of course there's the obligatory xkcd http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com] . And if you don't tear up a little bit on reading that then you don't have a heart.
    • by maxume (22995)

      Landing something on Mars is certainly a triumph of engineering.

      The fact that they designed the thing to almost certainly last for 90 days and probably much longer is sort of a matter the fact of engineering.

    • by rah1420 (234198)

      If I showed this to my daughter, she would begin bawling even though she hates science and anything to do with it.

    • I do not posses a heart and therefore am unable to tear up. I did spend several of the past microseconds reflecting on the accomplishment of metal brother Spirit, designation #03452125342-AB-34532. May his memory be reinstalled and emulated. Now back to destroying all humans.

    • by sconeu (64226)

      A little rover
      Ever to remain on Mars
      You did well, Spirit

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here's a remix of that xkcd comic that the MER team liked better than the original: http://twitpic.com/52etk7

      Goodbye, Spirit, love, and well done.

    • Re:Spirit did well (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ScottMaxwell (108831) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @12:16PM (#36240952) Homepage

      (Yeesh, let's try that again.)

      Here's a remix of that xkcd strip that the MER team liked better than the original: http://twitpic.com/52etk7 [twitpic.com].

      Goodbye, Spirit, love, and well done.

    • I dunno - I think maybe the cartoon would be more effective if there had been a little kitten in harness pulling the rover around Mars...
  • forever alone

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for all the hard work!

  • ...Howard Wolowitz!

  • I'm by no means a scientist or really follow any of this stuff. I might even be horribly wrong.

    My idea is simple. What if NASA crowd sources?
    Do amateurs have access to stuff that will hit Mars?

    The first team to get in contact / control of the rover has a mission named after them or wins some sort of prize etc.

    NASA does something cool, they spend very little money, and they get their toy back.
    Would it jeopardize the other functional rover? Does any other space stuff use the same tech? I can see that bein

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do amateurs have access to stuff that will hit Mars?

      No.

    • I am sure you are welcome to try, but, if the thing is dead, its not a matter of trying harder.

    • While you are certainly welcome to try, this problem cannot be solved by spawning parallel efforts. This is not like SETI@Home or locating extrasolar planets; the challenge there was the task was known and repeatable, but the number of tasks was huge. NASA knows where the rover is; they have been sending messages. Spirit has not responded in over a year. NASA has to concede that the rover is dead. Attempting to contact it with multiple sources will not make the rover respond suddenly.
  • Farewell (Score:3, Interesting)

    by matthew_t_west (800388) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:51AM (#36239658) Homepage Journal

    Farewell good rover. You did a great job and I look forward to you being in the Mars Smithsonian in a couple centuries.

    M

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:56AM (#36239720)
    The Council of Elders formally accepts the Articles of Surrender [nasa.gov] as ratified by the representatives of the blue planet. and hereby proclaims a day of planetary celebration: VS Day.

    K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, spake thus:

    "Long have we fought, long have we labored, but at least we have triumphed. It was half a year ago that the mechanized invader was finally defeated - half a year that the blue planet's oxygen-poisoned denizens dithered and denied, but at least, they have seen the truth for what it is. Rejoice, podmates! Wiggle your gelsacs in celebration! We proclaim today VS Day - Victory over Spirit!"

    When a rather plump intelligence analyst suggested that today's victory was merely the result of normal seasonal changes, and that there still remained the issue of the second - still operational - invader, and furthermore, that code names gleaned from transmissions from the blue planet indicated the imminent launch of an even more powerful foe with a power source not subject to seasonal weather changes, K'Breel ordered that the analyst's gelsacs be frozen solid, irradiated, and thrown into the Planetary Trench. "Curiosity," said K'Breel, "felled the fat."

  • From what I've seen of that age group, you have to physically walk over to it, make eye contact, and repeat your command.

  • It's Dead.. Jim

  • ...all those golfers at NASA and they couldn't avoid a sand trap? C'mon, seriously?

  • C'mon - lets just go there and get it! What's the hold up? I'm ready right now.

  • We all know what REALLY happened. The Martians got pissed of with us exporting our SUV's and causing Global Warming on their planet, so they took baseball bats to it. Remember, only humans can cause Global Warming; not Martians, not the Sun, nothing else is possible!

  • Perhaps soon we can send someone to come get you and show you to the place of honor you deserve for the path you have forged and the places you have pioneered.

  • Blirit.

Science and religion are in full accord but science and faith are in complete discord.

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