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Space United States Science Technology

Mars Rover Rolls And Turns 339

hcg50a writes "MSNBC reports that overnight, 'the golfcart-sized rover cut the final cord tying it to the landing platform that it came in on 10 days ago, then backed up about 10 inches (25 centimeters) and turned 45 degrees. These were the first maneuvers planned in preparation for having Spirit roll 10 feet (3 meters) down a ramp onto the Martian surface on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.' The NASA Mars rover website has complete animations from numerous cameras of the 45-degree turn. Driver training was never this cool!"
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Mars Rover Rolls And Turns

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:30AM (#7971168)
    Drivers ed was never this slow!
  • by Snaller ( 147050 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:33AM (#7971175) Journal
    How unslashdotian :o)
    • How unslashdotian :o)

      I bet Nasa uses metric. You can't say "within hollerin' distance" in space, because in space no can hear you scream (or holler).

      • by tommy_teardrop ( 228273 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @05:38AM (#7971562)
        Yeh - because NASA would never fail to use metric units [ibsys.com] would they?
      • Re:Wow! Metrics! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jridley ( 9305 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:35AM (#7972464)
        Anybody doing anything nontrival should be using metric. My least favorite part of physics class was when the prof would make us do stuff in imperial units. God, what a pain in the ass.

        More steps, arcane conversion factors to remember, lots more chances to screw up.

        How many cubic inches in a gallon? Shit, I don't know. How many cubic centimeters in a litre? 1000. Everything's a power of 10. Doesn't get any easier than that.

        It gets worse when you're outside of familiar measurement units. When you start talking about slugs, even a farm-raised midwest american boy like me thinks "OK, that's a unit of mass, not weight, so it's converted to grams."

        I am immersed in imperial measurements, and don't have an intuitive feel for metric, but I know that if the US switched and it was full immersion, within a year I'd be thinking in metric. The problem is, you can't do full immersion, because people will always speak in the language that they know. The problem is, even future generations will not switch, because the US is big enough that they never have to deal with metric except as a curiosity in school.
        • The problem is, you can't do full immersion, because people will always speak in the language that they know.

          I'm Canadian and have never known anything but metric. We were taught it in grade school. But I still tell people my height in feet and inches and my weight in pounds. I order meat from the supermarket in pounds too and the clerks don't ask me to repeat my order in kilograms. We still measure first downs in yards and photo sizes in inches. In fact, I just returned to school to study graphic ar

    • Am I totally uncool for thinking it strange that all the English linear measurements are translated to metric, but the angular measurements are given only in degrees and not translated to radians? :-)
  • by Tirinal ( 667204 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:34AM (#7971180)
    I can just imagine the conversations at NASA:

    "Hey, this gizmo thingy is pretty nifty."

    "You shouldn't fiddle with that, its highly delica-"

    "Dude, this thing has fourwheel drive! Can I go offroad? Please?"

    "Damnit, you can't just wa-"

    "Watch me do a barrel roll! Weeeee!!!"
  • Shit... (Score:5, Funny)

    by boomgopher ( 627124 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:37AM (#7971188) Journal
    I thought at first the subject said: "Mars Rover Rolls And Burns"

  • linux at nasa (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xk ( 64049 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:39AM (#7971200) Homepage
    Looks like they're using linux. Anyone know which GUI?

    here [nasa.gov] is the image.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:40AM (#7971203)
    Sorry if this is a stupid question.. But why does it take so long for things to retract, the rover to move, etc etc. Obviously they want to be careful since they can't very well say "oops. pick it up and let's try again", but it's taking days for it to just move off the pad..
    • by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:56AM (#7971256) Journal
      But why does it take so long for things to retract, the rover to move, etc etc.

      OK, this is a fair question. Here are four big reasons.

      1. As soon as it disembarks, there are hundreds of new risk factors that come up. So they want to make sure that if anything fails (e.g. airbag catches a wheel and knocks it over, breaking off the high gain antenna), at least they've gotten something for their incredible effort.

      2. They ARE conducting scientific experiments while it is safely on the lander. It is furthermore slightly elevated and able to take panoramic photos from a position it will not again regain when on ground level.

      3. Getting off the lander is DELICATE. There is a ~10 minute communications lag, which means ~20 minutes to give a command and see the results. This means everything must be done very carefully and very cautiously to make sure each minor step went off perfectly.

      4. If they did it quickly and something broke, every "genius" on the internet would be saying how stupid NASA was for rushing ahead and how they never get anything right and were just trying to get publicity and blah blah blah blah blah. So let them do it the right way so the mission is a success.

      For news, status, updates, scientific info, images, video, and more, check out:
      Mars Exploration Rover Highlights (AXCH) [axonchisel.net].
      • by cmacb ( 547347 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:31AM (#7971382) Homepage Journal
        Yeah I agree with parent. I'm glad they took lots of nice high resolution photos now, and even gathered some other data on temperatures, spectroscopy etc. rather than doing the risky business sooner. They in fact explained this at one of the press conferences. Having gotten past the riskiest part of the mission (the landing) they want to take advantage of that achievement while they can rather than proceeding with other risky maneuvers first. From here on out, every move, every pyro firing, and so on will potentially lead to dead air on their communications link.

        If I were them I wouldn't want to take any more risks than necessary until after the second lander is safely down, and of course there is a significant chance that it will vanish and never be heard from just like the Beagle2. With all the work that went into this thing they have every right to be cautious.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, they have to do several other things at the same time.

      Firstly, going through engineering logs sent from the lander/rover. Every move, every action has to be verified and checked to make sure all went to plan. You can't just rely on a camera for that. You need sensor feedback, etc.

      Secondly, they have to survey the area to pick out possible travel routes and areas of interest.

      Remember, before they landed they had a -general- idea of where the lander was going to end up, but could only verify and pinp
    • by Gogo Dodo ( 129808 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:27AM (#7971368)
      I think what the mission manager said summed it up pretty good: "brave, not stupid". Spaceflight.now [spaceflightnow.com]
    • Because (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )
      An "oops" is really big when you are talking a project costing in the realm of $400 million and taking years to prep. As other posters mentioned, they want to expend all options on the platform, before moving. If you screw something up there is not only no second chances, but you are talking serious money and serious time to get to try it again. There is just no such thing as being too careful when you've got that much on the line.
    • They said that the pad it is on is the most difficult thing it will need to navigate while on Mars.....
    • But why does it take so long for things to retract, the rover to move, etc etc.

      If you had a four-hundred-million-dollar car, you'd drive carefully, too. Especially if the nearest mechanic were a hundred million miles away.

      I guarantee you we're every bit as eager to get driving as you are. Have patience, friend. We're doing science already, and we're only about one more day away from egress.

  • Drivers ed. (Score:5, Funny)

    by OgreFade ( 627705 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:41AM (#7971207)
    At least at NASA the backseat drivers are qualified enough to give criticism.

    If NASA failed this driving test it would be huge waste of resources. How could they ever live it down? Imagine the headline:

    "Rover drives off the side of ramp, breaks off two wheels, and a solar panel."

    And the story afterward!

    "Felix Milton man in charge of rover navigation watched in horror as the picture feed reached earth. "The rover wheel slipped off the side of the ramp due to some... er.. martian dust," Milton reported. All in all the rover took a five meter trip, and then reported fell 25 cm to the unforgiving martian ground. NASA spokesmen report the trip took 8 agonizing minutes to reach its conclusion. "

    Ahh well I hope its fun for them, expensive remote control toy if you ask me. I hope we get solid answers for the questions this project was sent to investigate.
  • Grandma (Score:5, Funny)

    by ericdano ( 113424 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:42AM (#7971213) Homepage
    Geeze, and I thought my Grandma's driving was slow. Perhaps if the Rover was using a hands-free cell phone attachment it could concentrate on driving more....
  • that 7 meg picture is pretty sweet, and bland, but cool bland.
  • Question.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RALE007 ( 445837 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:50AM (#7971234)
    The ground looks like it's been disturbed in the panoramic image [nasa.gov] from the website. A few locations, most notibly a little left of the "Northwest Hill 335.9 Azimuth 11.2 Kilometers" marking looks like it could've been caused by the rovers bouncing airbag landing. Anyone know for certain or can identify any terrain disturbed by the landing?
    • by Afrosheen ( 42464 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:13AM (#7971314)
      It's possible the martian terrain has been disturbed by images of the goatse man. Nasa has it plastered on the surface of the rover to deter thiefs and martian ghosts.

      So disgusting, even dirt crawls away.
    • by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:21AM (#7971339) Journal
      There is the "Magic Carpet" which is the odd deformation of soil left after the airbag was retracted back under the lander to clear the way for the rover. This is right next to the lander.

      Further out, there are numerous marks where the lander bounced during its landing stage and the airbags deformed the soil from impacts.

      So basically, as far as I can tell, all the markings are from the airbag, either bouncing or scraping on the surface.

      For news, status, updates, scientific info, images, video, and more, check out:
      Mars Exploration Rover Highlights (AXCH) [axonchisel.net].
    • There is an area at the bottom of that image that looks like it's been blacked out, stretching across the whole thing, anybody know why? Classified? Or is it a technical reason perhaps?
      • Re:Question.. (Score:2, Informative)

        The blacked out bits are because the panoramic camera can't "see" that part of the rover.

        To use an analogy, if you're standing up and looking straight ahead, you can't see your shoes.

        Unless you're Ronald McDonald, of course.
    • Anyone know for certain or can identify any terrain disturbed by the landing?

      There are a couple of likely bounce marks in Sleepy Hollow. Look approximately in the current egress direction, straight up from the rover's right "wing" in the panorama. The dark circular features are where the airbags disturbed the soil (or this is the current belief, at any rate).

      There's another one just above the tip of the right "wing."

      You can see a few more in the panorama, but the locations are harder to describe.

  • by edxwelch ( 600979 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:52AM (#7971242)
    In this story http://spaceflightnow.com/mars/mera/040113reconstr uction.html
    It says that the atmosphere was much thinner than expected, because of a dust storm. NASA changed the chute to deploy earlier because of this, but even with this adjustment the chute opened a mile lower than expected. As far as I know Beagle's chute deployment was never adjusted for the thinner atmosphere, so maybe that explains why they haven't heard from it
    • by Llywelyn ( 531070 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @05:01AM (#7971468) Homepage
      That WOULD mean it really is "in a crater." So they were at least partly right.
    • by elrond1999 ( 88166 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @05:40AM (#7971568)
      No, thats flat out wrong. The atmosphere was not much thinner that expected. There was however weather when they landed. The end of the recent dust storm seems to have caused an updraft as they landed, this caused the computers to deploy the chute lower than expected, but well within parameters. There was nothing wrong with the atmosphere models that Nasa used, and the weather was expected. In fact if you have watched the Nasa press conferences you would have seen that the temperature models of the atmosphere was exactly as predicted.

      Spirit did however use rockets to slow the descent horizontaly and verticaly just before the rover was released from the chutes. (See the Spirit animation for a cool view of that) If they hadn't used the rockets the airbag might have popped and Spirit would certainly have bounced and rolled much farther. I don't know if Beagle used any retrorockets, and if they didn't Beagle might have skipped and bounced into a crater.
      • by edxwelch ( 600979 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:35AM (#7972458)
        Sorry, but your wrong, according to an earlier artical
        (http://spaceflightnow.com/mars/mera/stat us2.html) :

        "Meanwhile, two changes have been made. Spirit will unfurl its parachute two seconds sooner than originally planned to compensate for current Martian weather conditions.

        "A dust storm seen on the other side of the planet has caused global heating and thinning of the atmosphere at high altitudes," said Mark Adler, the rover mission manager for cruise and entry, descent and landing (EDL)."

        The question is: Did Beagle also make this adjustment?
  • by flopsy mopsalon ( 635863 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @03:53AM (#7971249)
    I read this in a column on the internet:

    "Kathy Sarvak of Burlington, Vt., points out that European Space Agency's "Beagle 2," named in honor of Charles Darwin's vessel, failed at Mars while NASA's "Spirit," with its quasi-religious name, succeeded. "God's sense of humor is a wonderful thing," she declares."

    Personally, I am shocked and appalled that our NASA technicians are giving quasi-religious names to scientific equipment. This shows no faith in reason and deduction. It would not surprise me if the data from Spirit is cooked up by creationists in the Bush administration to shore up their own wacky beliefs.

    I hope NASA's scientists use more common sense next time.
    • by CHaN_316 ( 696929 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:21AM (#7971340)
      Before you're shocked and appalled for NASA technicians giving quasi-religious names to scientific equipment, maybe you should read [planetary.org] how NASA came up with these names.

      And I quote from the winning child's essay that named the rovers:

      I used to live in an Orphanage.
      It was dark and cold and lonely.
      At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better.
      I dreamed I could fly there.
      In America, I can make all my dreams come true.....
      Thank-you for the "Spirit" and the "Opportunity"

      -Sofi Collis, age 9

      Heaven forbid that NASA names the rovers after the things that make America great. Oops...probably shouldn't have mentioned Heaven :P
      • Please justify this crap. Sources???
      • This is a VERY TOUCHING STORY that shows GODS plan for EVERYONE!!!!!!! It was sent to me by a US Senator who is not afraid to Speak OUT for JESUS!! Forward this story to EVERYONE you know!!!!! (Bill Gates will donate $1000 for every 100 e.mails!) JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS!!!!!!!!!

        GOD Bless America!!!!! We Remember 9/11!!!!!!!
        ETC!!!!! ETC!!!!!!!
      • > Heaven forbid that NASA names the rovers after the things that make America great.

        Like "Shock" and "Awe?"

        (Things that make America "Great" as in "the Great Tzar of Russia" or "the Great San Francisco Earthquake.")
    • Here are the definitions of spirit [reference.com]. I've never thought of it as necessarily quasi-religious.
    • Actually spirit is named as in "wines and spirits", for highly alcoholic beverages such as moonshine that helped make America great. Opportunity is named for what NASA scientists never had with girls while they were in school. But by naming the rover that it helps to make up for it.

      The next two rovers we're planning on sending are "player" and "bacardi 151".
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "This shows no faith..."

      Faith, huh?
  • by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:00AM (#7971264) Journal
    For news, status, updates, scientific info, images, video, and more, check out:
    Mars Exploration Rover Highlights (AXCH) [axonchisel.net].
  • by odeee ( 741339 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:11AM (#7971309)

    Spammers Using Mars Rover as Relay [bbspot.com]

    "NASA engineers first became aware the issue when the images of the Martian landscape from the pancam started to resemble hot young girls"br>

    "NASA promised to track down the people responsible. "Please send to us any spam you receive originating from the '@spirit.mars' address, so we can track down the offending spammers. Don't forget to include the pictures too,"

  • Isn't it neat. The whole world is going on a roadtrip around mars. It's like the whole planet is getting towed along behind the rover :).
  • BigTrak! (Score:3, Funny)

    by frankthechicken ( 607647 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @04:23AM (#7971347) Journal
    Pfft, I was doing [lancs.ac.uk] this sort of stuff years ago on my BigTrak [robotprojects.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Rover: Wirrrrrrr (crawls forawrd)
    Martian Highway Patrol (MHP): Whoop Whoop! Pull over!
    Rover: Wirrrr Click
    MHP: You got a license for that thing?
    Rover: Wirrrrrrrr Click Click Zoommm
    MHP: Funny guy eh? (pulls ray-gun(tm))
    Rover: !
  • 90 days (Score:2, Interesting)

    Can anyone explain why the rover is only supposed to last 90 days? Why would it only last that long? Satelites last longer than 90 days? You would think that something built for mars would last much longer. It was only designed for a half mile drive. What is wrong with this picture?
    • Re:90 days (Score:5, Informative)

      by angusr ( 718699 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:34AM (#7972068)
      It's not designed for 90 days, it's expected to last at least 90 days. Basically, that's about the point where dust build up on the solar panels and the charge/discharge cycle of the batteries are expected to cut into performance. It may last longer, or there may be a dust storm before then that drops enough dust on the panels to cause power problems early. No one is sure.

      And before anyone says; it's unlikely that just tilting the panels will shift it as it'll be held in place electrostatically. Also, there aren't any "wipers" - more possible failures and the dust is likely to scratch the panels if wiped.

      And finally; the data gathered in those 90 days will take years to process and study anyway.

    • Re:90 days (Score:3, Informative)

      by Slashamatic ( 553801 )
      Battery chemistry is a major problem. They are operating the rover in cold conditions and there is a real danger that it cools down too much overnight. I guess there are heaters, but they are limited by the power drain. Satellites don't generally spend so long in the dark. The ones that do, in geosynch orbits, are much larger.

      Unless it could fly with an RTG (Radio-isotope Thermal Generator), which adds to the weight and danger at launch, there isn't really much that NASA can do.

      • I believe that another limiting factor is that Mars seasonal changes will increasingly decrease the amount of time the sun will be able to charge the solar panels. So, it will be getting colder, and draw more power to keep it's components heated, just as it begins to create less and less power.

        Naturally, that's not as much of an issue with orbiters.
      • Re:90 days (Score:3, Informative)

        by mikeee ( 137160 )
        Actually, it has some RTGs, but they're little bitty ones with an aggregate heat output of maybe 6 watts; they're used to help keep the heavily-insulated electronics box warm, although there is an electric heater to suppliment them.

        (Not to mention the heat from that mighty 20 Mhz radiation-hardened PPC running the thing. :)
    • Satelites around Earth are some 75k km closer to the Sun than the rover is. The Sun kilowatt power available at Mars is less than at Earth. Space althought frought with its own environmental hazards (vacuum, radition, etc. ) is not the same as even a weak weather system like Mars. Hardening something to be placed in LEO is one thing. Hardening something to be placed on Mars is something else.

      It should also be pointed out that this thing is a hellva lot more complex than any run of the mill satelite aro
  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @07:30AM (#7971892) Journal
    The article says that more than likely the lander will run out of power because there will not be enough sun to power the solar panels in the Martian winter. My question is, is there no possibility of the lander "comming back to life" after the Martian winter?

    It would be really great for slashdot to have a Q&A with the Mars rover designers and engineers. I'd love to ask questions about the type of CPU/OS used. How the optics differ from your standard digital camera (other than being expensive and high quality) and so forth. Anybody want to second that? There is some information on the engineering specs, but it's very spotty it seems and hard to find!
    • by ControlFreal ( 661231 ) <niek@@@bergboer...net> on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:37AM (#7972487) Journal

      As some of the other posters have remarked, the major problems are:

      • Battery chemistry: the upcoming Martian winter features both short days (less light for the panels) and low temperatures (affecting the battery's performance. In addition, the batteries start to give out after many charge cycles.
      • Dust on the panels: over time, dust builds op on the panels, making them less efficient. And there aren't any wiper to take to dust off.
      • Weather: dust and wind will gradually damage the rover.
      Note that the above has already been mentioned. However, an idea that I haven't heard yet is continued limited operation: The Voyager probes lost most of their nifty features along the way (see here [cwru.edu] for some details):

      First the science boom wouldn't deploy properly, then the primary radio receiver failed, leaving NASA with a backup receiver that also was a bit flakey, and along the way more things started to go awry (like to camera-platform movement started to become really limited at a certain point).

      Nonetheless, the Voyagers are still used as science intruments: currently, they are taking measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field, plasma, and charged particle environment while searching for the heliopause. They function as mankind's most distant sensors in this respect.

      In fact, this kind of limited operation isn't strange to NASA: many probes first serve an extended mission after the primary mission has ended, and then limited operation may continue until the probe fails altogether (e.g. ca. 2015 for the Voyagers).

      So in fact, when Spirit isn't able to drive anymore, we may still use its camera and other instruments to gather as much data on the surrounding soil as possible. Still later, when available power has dwindled to such an extent that even the advanced camera's can't be used anymore, we could still use the temperature sensors. Finally, when the high gain antenna fails, the mission might be over altogether, or they might still use the low gain antenna, until, finally, Spirit reaches the end of its agony and dies a slow electronic death.

      I do agree fully with the parent on that we should organize a Q&A on this. How do we set this in motion?

    • According to the rover spec sheet [macnn.com], the lander uses a radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC processor.

      See page 45, last paragraph, of the linked PDF. For those PDF weinies out there, here's what it reads:

      The computer in each Mars Exploration Rover runs with a 32-bit Rad 6000 microprocessor, a radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC chip used in some models of Macintosh computers, operating at a speed of 20 million instructions per second. Onboard memory includes 128 megabytes of random access memor
  • roll 10 feet (3 meters)

    "Hey, Phil! How long's the dorsal solar panel s'posed ta be?"
    "10 feet, Bob."
    "We ain't as'posed ta use feet nomore. What's that in meters?"
    "Well, let's see. Darth Vader is 2 meters tall, and this is definitely bigger than him, but shorter than an Olympic swimming pool, which is fifty. 3 meters, Bob."

  • Every time the spirit rover moves and doesn't get stuck on something, take a drink.
    • > Every time the spirit rover moves and doesn't
      > get stuck on something, take a drink.

      Maybe the guys sending commands to the rover should play this game, that would liven things up a little!

      I want to see the rover doing a few handbrake turns and Dukes Of Hazzard style jumps off crater edges.

      If only there were a few gratuitous stacks of empty cardboard boxes and fruit stalls to aim at...
  • Wow, this site is screaming fast for just being slashdotted. I get half a MB/s downloading the movies!
  • by k3nc ( 687970 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:49AM (#7972592)
    1150x895 and 2.7 MB with a 0.18 correction for the tilt of the rover. http://test.muc.edu/spirit_pano.mov [muc.edu]
  • With all the communication and positioning problems Mars probes have had, maybe we should first send a set of permanent navigational and communication satellites.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.