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Mars NASA Science

11 Amazing Things NASA's Huge Mars Rover Can Do 147

Posted by samzenpus
from the rover-4.0 dept.
TheNextCorner writes "NASA is getting set to launch its next Mars rover this week. The car-size Curiosity rover is the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, slated to blast off Saturday (Nov. 26) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover will employ 10 different science instruments to help it answer questions once it touches down on the Red Planet in August 2012."
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11 Amazing Things NASA's Huge Mars Rover Can Do

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  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:55PM (#38126136)

    Can it convert imperial measurements to metric measurements?

    • by LifesABeach (234436) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:34PM (#38126556)
      No, it cost a little bit extra.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:39PM (#38126618)

      Can it convert imperial measurements to metric measurements?

      Dispelling rumors of the threat posed by a nuclear-powered, laser-armed robotic invader, K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, said:

      Already one invader flails haplessly in low orbit, while its successor sits on the pad, its launch delayed for yet another four days.

      The denizens of the Evil Blue Planet call them by many names - Newtons, Pounds - but what the blueworlders fail to understand that the only force that can do meaningful work is a unified force. Our strength is their weakness: we are one species, we live on one world, we use one system of measurement. We are one force. A red planet, united, to never be divided!

      Current intelligence reports suggests that denizens of the Evil Blue Planet have taken note [slashdot.org] of our effective planetary defense, but seem unaware of the extent to which their activities have made us angry. We are not hurt; we are angry. Very, very angry indeed [slashdot.org].

      Having been reminded that the gelsacs of many metrication consultants were punctured to bring them this information [slashdot.org], there were no questions from the press corps.

      • by khallow (566160)
        It's nice to see the press corp finally learn from their mistakes. I was starting to wonder if they were as dumb as some of our analogous professionals here on Earth.
    • by ozbird (127571) on Monday November 21, 2011 @04:44PM (#38128404)

      Can it convert imperial measurements to metric measurements?

      No, but the crater it will leave in the Martian surface is impressive in any measurement system.

  • Thats not all! (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Moheeheeko (1682914)
    Combination hookah and coffee maker, also makes Julienne fries!
  • Drift (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Can it drift? Otherwise I'm interested.

  • No terraforming? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drobety (2429764) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:02PM (#38126206)
    It can not terraform? Bah.
    • Re:No terraforming? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:03PM (#38126228)

      Sure it can... it will just take a few billion years.

      One misplaced micro-organism and it could set off evolution on mars that will slowly terraform the planet over the next few billion years.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Um, no. Unless that micro-organism is already adapted to conditions under which no micro-organisms can grow.

        However, one misplaced primordial soup, and we could be saying hello to Grzpltrx on the return journey in a few billion years.

        • Re:No terraforming? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:51PM (#38126808)

          Bacteria have been found alive on the outside of satellites that have not had contact with earth for months.

          If they can survive on the exterior of man made objects in space- it is potentially possible they could survive on Mars.

          One of the theories of origin, pan-spermia, is that simplistic organisms (or their precursors) spread to earth via space debris.

          • by blair1q (305137)

            Earth was the best place for them to land.

            As for those stories of bacteria living on satellites yada yada, just how did we find those bacteria without bringing the satellite back in contact with Earth?

            • by Anonymous Coward

              I hadn't heard about the satellites before but bacteria have survived on the moon:

              http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/1998/ast01sep98_1/

            • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:24PM (#38127362)

              I'm not saying it is likely- just possible. Get the right extremophile bacteria on mars and the potential is there.

              Even if they are not ideally suited- all they need to do is be able to survive and reproduce. Thriving is not required.

              There are species that can survive wild temperatures and dry conditions. Species that can survive all sorts of conditions. Bacterial species are not like animal species- genetic information is easily spread.

              If one species can survive the temperature- one species can "feed" on mars-etc, etc, - if they're all there in a rare event they could exchange the right genetic information and survive on mars.

              • Something similar to the Geobacter [geobacter.org] genus might be a good candidate, considering they can metabolise a wide range of organic compounds including hydrocarbons like oil and use iron oxide (something Mars has lots of) instead of oxygen. Not sure on the temperature ranges they can survive or their liquid water requirements but that's part of what this mission is about, to find out if there are micro-environments on Mars capable of supporting single celled organisms.
            • by tqk (413719)

              As for those stories of bacteria living on satellites yada yada, just how did we find those bacteria without bringing the satellite back in contact with Earth?

              It was an experiment. High-tech petri dishes were bolted to the exterior of a satellite and left alone for months. Then they were analyzed on the ISS or returned to NASA in containment vessels.

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            One of the theories of origin, pan-spermia, is

            ... the OOL theory that attracts least interest from the OOL (Origin Of Life) researchers, because it does damned-all to explain the origin of life (it merely moves the locus of the problem to some other, unknown, location and conditions).

            You may not get this impression from watching Discovery Channel. But then again, the producers and writers of Discovery Channel aren't OOL researchers.

  • #1 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:04PM (#38126252)

    It can go to MARS! Well, assuming all the measurements are in metric [wikipedia.org] (although if they aren't, it'll still go to Mars, just a little faster than expected.)

    Ok, now that's out of the way

    Curiosity's ChemCam instrument can vaporize rocks from up to 30 feet (9 meters) away with a laser. Three spectrographs will analyze the composition of the vaporized bits.

    Anyone else find it disturbing that we are putting lasers on robots now? And putting them in space? It's like we're asking for Skynet to develop. Let's hope we just don't see the headline "Curiosity killed the human" next.

    • Re:#1 (Score:4, Funny)

      by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:09PM (#38126296)

      Psychotic laser-equipped misanthopic robots don't kill people.

      People kill people.

      • Psychotic laser-equipped misanthopic robots don't kill people.

        People kill people.

        Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?

        First, Grunt-Phobus 'doesn't get out of orbit'. Now, we have rock-vaporizing lasers on another 'Mar's' satellite.

        They're both large complicated machines with quite a bit of computer power.

        I just don't like the vibe I'm getting from this. Not at all.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          Psychotic laser-equipped misanthopic robots don't kill people.

          People kill people.

          Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?

          First, Grunt-Phobus 'doesn't get out of orbit'. Now, we have rock-vaporizing lasers on another 'Mar's' satellite.

          They're both large complicated machines with quite a bit of computer power.

          I just don't like the vibe I'm getting from this. Not at all.

          The odd thing is, after 10 years of war and 4 billion deaths, all they wanted was to feel loved, a few words of approval from their engineers.

        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          Just be happy that they didn't put a monkey in charge. Skynet + Planet of the Apes = Planet of the Robot Apes. BoboChimpNet?

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          First, Grunt-Phobus 'doesn't get out of orbit'. Now, we have rock-vaporizing lasers on another 'Mar's' satellite.

          Actually, I have a tweet the @BBCScienceNews that some degree of contact has been re-established with Phobos-Grunt.

          Which doesn't get the mission back under way, but it's a necessary first step.

      • Just don't let Wolowitz near this thing. It'll stuck and there will be laset craters everywhere.
      • by bronney (638318)

        Psychotic laser-equipped misanthopic robots don't kill people.

        People kill people.

        nig.. *ooooo don't go there*

    • Re:#1 (Score:5, Funny)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:15PM (#38126364)

      We're only putting them on robots because we ran out of sharks. Once we run out of robots, then I suppose we'll start putting them on lawyers.

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        Seems to be bucking a trend:

        Thing || Redeeming aspect(s)
        Shark || occasionally does not eat it's own offspring
        Robot || can be used to build/construct/manipulate the world to be more suitable for people
        Lawyers || N/A

        So, shouldn't it be:
        Robot -> Shark -> Lawyer
        or
        Lawyer -> Shark -> Robot

    • Re:#1 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:20PM (#38126412) Journal
      You are sort of trivializing an important point. Perhaps the most important point, at that. At this stage there is only ONE cool thing that this rover needs to do. And that is land safely on the surface of Mars. No mean feat considering how complex this new landing system is. Retro/landing rockets, hovering, winching down, etc. etc. etc. At this point I don't give a good God damn (take that Pakistani censors!) about the other 11 cool things. They don't mean shit if it can't land. Articles like this just make me feel like we are patting ourselves (humans in general) on the back before it's time. I am an optimistic pessimist, so counting my chickens first makes me nervous.
      • Just curious what made you pick this one item. Yes, landing on Mars is hard. Then again, just getting TO Mars is hard. Then again, launching off Earth is hard. There's a whole string of events that all have to work to make this a success, and I'm slightly confused why you'd point to the landing stage as the important (or "critical" or "worrysome") one. From what I can gather, Mars probes have failed at launch, on transit, on approach (that's where Lockheed's screw-up with imperial units comes in) but once
        • Hah! :) I guess I just paraphrased since I was thinking of all that: launching, getting out of orbit (unlike the Mars Grunt), the trip, orbital insertion, Mars atmospheric entry, landing, establishing communication with earth, blah, blah, blah. My head was just at a place that said landing on the planet was really the only thing that is important right now, AND all the things entailed to achieve said landing. As far as the actual landing this time, it is pretty damned involved. I'm not sure if you are aware
      • At this stage there is only ONE cool thing that this rover needs to do. And that is land safely on the surface of Mars. No mean feat considering how complex this new landing system is. Retro/landing rockets, hovering, winching down, etc. etc. etc.

        It's actually not all that much more complex or risky than the system used to land the previous two rovers. Seriously, I'm getting tired of people flapping about as if this were some totally new thing - because it isn't. Every landing method has it's flaws and ri

        • If these were every day occurrences your point would be valid. They aren't. So neither is your point. There are a great deal of uncertainties and with a 10 or 15 minutes control lag on a piece of equipment that has traveled between worlds people can count on nothing. Especially as this is only the second rover to have this method of landing. And if you are still so full of ... ahem... confidence, look at the Russian mars probe that didn't even make it out of orbit. The Russians have more time in space than
          • There are a great deal of uncertainties and with a 10 or 15 minutes control lag on a piece of equipment that has traveled between worlds people can count on nothing.

            Since we aren't controlling remotely - control lag is utterly irrelevant.

            Especially as this is only the second rover to have this method of landing.

            Depending on how you count, it's either the first (with winches) or the third (stop-and-drop). You've forgotten about Sojourner.

            And if you are still so full of ... ahem... confidence

            • You talk about how landing is meaningless because of all the experience yet you think looking for comparisons at how others fare is meaningless. Or irrelevant. When you discount things that happen to others with more experience (that is what having more time in space means... are you really that dumb or just trolling?) you show a lack of wisdom. Learning from others' mistakes is a form of wisdom. And given your last statement being 180 degrees from your original response to me... wait now you aren't taking
    • by tgd (2822)

      Anyone else find it disturbing that we are putting lasers on robots now? And putting them in space? It's like we're asking for Skynet to develop. Let's hope we just don't see the headline "Curiosity killed the human" next.

      Its proof that NASA knows there's life on Mars *AND ITS HOSTILE!!!!!*

      I bet its the Decepticons.

      • I was thinking of the rover showing the Martians what an earth tail gate party was. I hope JPL remembered to load the ribs and b-b-q sauce in back of the rover before leaving.
      • They didn't tell you that they have sharks piloting the spacecraft.
    • Anyone else find it disturbing that we are putting lasers on robots now?

      Nope. C'mon, it's cool! Robot probes with frickin' lasers beams attached to their heads!

    • by dissy (172727)

      Anyone else find it disturbing that we are putting lasers on robots now? And putting them in space? It's like we're asking for Skynet to develop.

      I realize that is in jest, but something to think about:

      There is a wider difference between the rovers current software and a skynet like murder-bot, than there is between our current UAV drones and a skynet like murder-bot.

      The UAV's can do 95% of the hunting down and targeting process all by itself.
      The only reason it can not fire on it's own is due to a design choice in software.

      With a malicious reflashing of a UAV drone, the entire killing process can be automated and left on its own.
      Of course the larger

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        That is true, although currently all robotic technology requires significant human input to continue operation. A rogue UAV could do a lot of damage, true, but it only carries a couple of missiles. A rogue RTG powered tank (which this rover basically is, just without armor) with a laser powerful enough to vaporize rock, designed to operate millions of miles away from humans in harsh terrain? Nearly unlimited destruction. Except for the obvious problems with using an RTG in combat, the military would love a

  • #0 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:18PM (#38126404)

    I'll be impressed if it actually manages to land there. Otherwise the things it can do after landing are pointless.

    • Re:#0 (Score:5, Informative)

      by anwaya (574190) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:35PM (#38126566)
      The landing strategy is quite spectacular [space.com], though unfortunately no-one's going to be there to observe it.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        It's a shame they couldn't roll one of the other rovers out there to film it :).

      • Re:#0 (Score:5, Informative)

        by camperdave (969942) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:08PM (#38127114) Journal
        It's no different than what they used [youtube.com] to land Spirit and Opportunity, except the rover is going to be placed gently on the surface instead of being dropped from 4 or 5 storeys up with a series of 40G impacts.
      • I think they are wasting the descent stage module. In the video it hovers above the ground with rocket propulsion, at a very low altitude (10 meters?) while the rover itself descends to the surface, then releases the rover and flies away in a random direction like crazy (and presumably crashes) - what a waste after it flew all the way to mars and got so close to an actual landing? Why not just let the descent stage land softly nearby, and use it for something, maybe as a radio relay or as a backup solar pan
      • by tokul (682258)

        The landing strategy is

        Lets hope they don't land in Mars spring time [youtube.com]

      • by Spikeles (972972)
        No person will be, but there will be plenty of satellites. [arizona.edu] (if they happen to be in the right place at the right time)
      • by loconet (415875)

        Actually, one of the listed items is the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI):

        ...a small camera located on Curiosity's main body, will record video of the rover's descent to the Martian surface (which will be accomplished with the help of a hovering, rocket-powered sky crane)

        It very likely won't be a live HD youtube stream of the entire landing but it should allow us to see part of the landing process.

  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:29PM (#38126496) Homepage
    They could have flown the shuttle like two more times for that!
    • by necro81 (917438)
      And it wouldn't have gotten us 1/10th the science or technical R&D. And it wouldn't have gotten even 1/1000th the way to Mars. And after two weeks of flying in LEO, it would be right back where it started.
  • http://www.theonion.com/articles/mars-rover-beginning-to-hate-mars,2072/ [theonion.com]

    This will inevitably happen to MSL as well.
    • The problem is, MSL has a frickin' laser beam attached to it's head as well as nuclear power.

      If we ever do go to Mars, we may have to worry about the reception we'll receive...

  • "Of course you know, this means war!"
    A laser armed rover sounds a lot like a high tech tank.
  • It needs swarmbots. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blair1q (305137) on Monday November 21, 2011 @02:49PM (#38126798) Journal

    It should have a cargo-hold full of Wall-E type devices that can scatter during the day and return home to charge at night.

    Give more than one scientist at a time a chance to drive.

    (And reduce the risk of total mission failure in case of a Walowitz incident.)

  • This car can be parked free anywhere on the planet and it's immune from speeding tickets!
  • Is it an Autobot or a Decepticon?
  • by kimvette (919543) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:07PM (#38127102) Homepage Journal

    If I had say in the matter, I would include more redundance.

    Instead of one of each type of camera on the mast, I would include redundant cameras on each mast.
    Instead of one mast, I would require two masts, with separate motors, computers, etc.

    I would include both mechanical (or pneumatic if compressors that work in that environment can be made compactly enough) and electrostatic lens cleaning mechanisms.

    I would include redundant "legs" and wheels, with the primary set being ejectable in the event of failure.

    The cost would go up, but given that when you come down to it this amounts to a $2.5bil RC car, spending a few million more on extreme redundance to guarantee reliability (after it hopefully lands safely) is very cheap insurance - it's not like you can just send out a minimum-wage Geek Squad "technician" to (hopefully) repair it and upsell it on gold-plated HDMI cables and Norton AntiVirus. ;) It'd suck if the one mast failed, or one "leg" failed without a backup unit or mechanism.

    • by camperdave (969942) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:16PM (#38127234) Journal
      I'd go with an ATHLETE styled [youtube.com] base, and deploy several probes rather than just one.
      • by kimvette (919543)

        After viewing it, I have to agree; I really like that prototype - it is ingenious in its simplicity!

      • That thing is awesome... it's like Pimp My Rover over at JPL. It looks like that thing requires a lot more human interaction to operate though.. and so maybe not the best choice for Mars with the lag time.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > it's not like you can just send out a minimum-wage Geek Squad "technician" to (hopefully) repair it

      I bet you'd get lots of volunteers.

    • The problem, of course, is that you end up adding weight with all that redundancy. The added weight makes it more difficult to land, making it less likely the mission will succeed.

      Personally, I'd just build more than one rover. While I can believe that building one cost $2.5 billion, I tend to doubt building a second one would cost another 2.5 billion. And, if everything works as planned, having two rovers wouldn't be a bad thing.

      • by kimvette (919543)

        The mission is $2.5bil - and while a good chunk of that is R&D and implementation of the probe itself, the major chunk of it is delivery and also mission control. The cost of building redundance into the probe (and someone asked why not just add more different instruments? The added cost vs. weight for redundance to all instruments is negligible compared to the overall budget, etc. and it would suck if the optical camera dies but everything else lives - because the optical photos are what sell these mis

        • The added cost vs. weight for redundance to all instruments is negligible compared to the overall budget

          It costs about $22,000 per kg to reach LEO. For a one-way to Mars, it will be about $154,000 per kg. At 900 kg, the cost of sending just the rover in rocket costs is $125-136M. The other problem is not so much the cost but the practical limitations of launch. You can't send any size or weight you want. There are size and weight restrictions on payload because of limitations on rocket technology. If you want to increase the size of the payload, you have to R&D bigger rockets. NASA is currently usi

    • by mmustapic (1155729) on Monday November 21, 2011 @03:48PM (#38127720)
      Why do you suppose it doesn't have redundancy or failback mechanisms? For example, it has SIX wheels. The Spirit rover could still work (and did) with only four wheels. Also, the whole rover is a complex laboratory capable of doing many experiments. If one of them fails, it can still do science with the others. Adding a secondary mast, computer, etc, adds weight besides redundancy.
    • by mctk (840035)

      I don't have mod points, but just wanted to say thanks for posting a serious comment. Every comment above is just a cheap joke.

    • by sega_sai (2124128)
      It is probably more effective to have many instruments instead of duplicating each one. Because if you have 10 instruments and 1 doesn't work, you still have 9 left, but if you have 5 pairs of instruments, and only one fails, what's the point of having 4 pairs of identical working instruments ? I think redundancy only make sense when you are talking about instruments which are absolutely crucial for the mission success. Otherwise it is better to just have more different instruments
    • by joggle (594025)

      In short, they can't without significantly adding to the cost. They are at the limit of what can be shielded using current technology (I'm referring to the heat shield). Any shield larger, needed to protect a larger payload, would cook the payload. There's some ideas on how to make larger heat shields, but they haven't been tested (or even built) yet.

      I don't even know if there's a rocket large enough to carry such a large vehicle to Mars as the one you're proposing.

      Finally, the cost doesn't proportionally g

    • If I had say in the matter, I would include more redundance.

      Unfortunately redundancy means more weight. And less space with less functionality. The limitations on the payload are space, weight, and cost. In comparison the original Mars Viking landers cost about half as this rover and they did far, far less.

      I would include both mechanical (or pneumatic if compressors that work in that environment can be made compactly enough) and electrostatic lens cleaning mechanisms.

      More mechanical moving parts == more points of failure. Eventually moving parts will break down. The Spirit and Opportunity rover lost functionality of their wheels after a few years. As for pneumatic, that is really not feasible. The atmosphere of Mars is

    • by khallow (566160)

      The cost would go up, but given that when you come down to it this amounts to a $2.5bil RC car, spending a few million more on extreme redundance to guarantee reliability (after it hopefully lands safely) is very cheap insurance

      Why do you think it costs $2.5 billion in the first place? A lot of that cost is indeed the "very cheap" redundancy you speak of.

  • Can it chase astronauts around the martian service when it accidentally slips into "combat" mode? I'd like to see that on youtube.

  • Does it have a trailer hitch?

  • It can totally kick Spirit and Opportunity's ass. I mean its bigger and nuclear powered! No contest!

  • The half life of Plutonium-238 is 87.7 years, its got two computers and some redundancy in wheels and comm.

    Assuming everything is in working order upon landing how long can it last? The NASA material says it has a two year mission. Does anyone know what NASA's guess is? Could it still be doing useful work in 20 years time?

    • I'm guessing 2 years is the guaranteed time which NASA will complete all the mission objectives. If it lasts longer, then NASA will have to petition for more funding. While the power supply might be working in 20 years, there is no guarantee that the rest of the rover will be. At some point it will no longer able to move like Spirit. At some point the instrumentation may fail. At some point the communication equipment may fail. I would guess that 5 years is probably a good bet.
  • They really should have designed it with replaceable batteries. That way we could sent a second one later with a spare nuclear battery for it. Maybe even design the thing with 4 battery compartments since you can continue to get some juice from the old batteries.

  • You can tell it's an American probe by the nuclear-powered ass sticking up in the air.

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