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Space Science

Mars Odyssey Begins Overtime 122

thhamm writes "NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter begins working overtime today after completing a prime mission that discovered vast supplies of frozen water, ran a safety check for future astronauts, and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars, among other feats. An extended Mission until 2006 has been approved, and I hope it will last that long, maybe doing more safety checks for astronauts :)"
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Mars Odyssey Begins Overtime

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  • Doom??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by elasticwings ( 758452 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:19AM (#10076294)
    Umm, isn't this the first step towards the Doom 3 premise? I mean do we really want to start exploring Mars? It'll just eventually lead up to colonization via the Union Aerospace Corporation. Please somebody think of the poor Doom space marine that will have to go through this.
  • Roll on .mars
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And we are the only ones here... spooky.
  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:23AM (#10076311)
    It will not be eligible for overtime pay. [slashdot.org]
  • by bagel2ooo ( 106312 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:27AM (#10076324)
    While I think a manned mission to Mars would be a wonderful idea. I ponder if we would be able to collect enough data to see if using "greenhouse" gases to supply Mars with a more human-suitable atmosphere would also be a good long-term goal. I know that would probably negatively impact our manned missions there for quite some time until the "incubation" is well underway or finished, but I think that with what resources we've been able to find Mars may be more viable for a station or colony than mars.
    • but I think that with what resources we've been able to find Mars may be more viable for a station or colony than mars.

      I don't think I understand what you're trying to say here.

    • I personally think that robotic missions are still the best value. What I would like to see is an atempt to establish earth plant life on mars.

      Apparently around the equator of mars there are places that reach 0 degress celsius, and there is supposedly algae at the earths poles that can survive those kind of temperatures.

      So why not send a robot that will heat a small basin of water to keep it liquid and try and grow something ?. The first small step towards terraforming.
      • by kippy ( 416183 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @09:13AM (#10077119)
        According to Chris McKay from NASA they will be. He's a big terraforming proponent and he outlined a near future mission in which a rover will scoop up some dirt into a bell jar, and they will attempt to grow a mustard plant. He said they'll probably have to do it on the moon first for political reasons but it's on the works.

        I don't have a link of anything but he gave this talk at the Mars Soceity's convention last week.
        • I don't have any problems trying to grow a plant on Mars dirt. I do have problems if that plant is anything from the Brassica family (includes all the vegetables you were forced to eat as a kid: cabbage, Brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli as well as the mustards, which include many highly invasive and hard-to-get-rid-of weed species).

          Don't know if many Slashdot people are dairy farmers, but their worst nightmare is having hay fields taken over with yellow mustard. And that isn't half as bad as garlic mu

          • I don't think it will be that big of a concern. The particular strain of mustard has it's genome mapped so they will know for sure that it's earth life if it spreads. I'm also pretty sure that as tough as it is, it's can't survive Martian conditions in the open. Hell, we could send Kudzu and not have to worry about it spreading in subzero temperatures and near airless conditions with no oxygen and unchecked UV radiation.

            If it were anaerobic extreemophiles, it might be worrisome. Complex plant life as w
      • I agree that robotic missions are of great value. However, I don't think NASA will try to establish plant life on Mars anytime soon. NASA, specifically JPL, spends millions of dollars every mission to make sure the spacecraft is as clean as possible, controlling the number of bugs per square meter very precisly. They want to prevent "forward contamination" - that is wrecking the Martian ecosystem. I suppose it is possible to design an instrument that keeps a plant seen inside an internal jar, somehow pr
    • by kippy ( 416183 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @09:17AM (#10077152)
      Landing on an earthlike Mars would be nice but not totally necessary for early astronauts. I'm about at pro-terraforming as it gets but even I think that landing humans on an un-terraformed Mars is best for science.

      At a talk given by Chris McKay this weekend, he was asked something like "when do we give up the search for life and start terraforming?" That's kind of a sticky question because it's kind of like proving a negative. However he pointed out a region in the southern hemisphere which is older than the north, still has an earth-strength magnetosphere and is Siberian in nature. He said that once a kilometer deep core is drilled, checked for life and nothing is found that there is almost certainly no life on Mars nor was there ever.

      It will take people to do that investigation. My personal hope is that nothing is found and terraforming can begin.

      For a good treatment of terraforming, read Robert Zubrin's "The Case For Mars".
      • My personal hope is that we begin terraforming whether we find life or not, but that we would delay it slightly so we could do a good sampling of surveys to find out if we find life in places in which we really don't expect it. Whatever we do to mars' surface will have only a limited effect on its interior for some time, so we can start on top and work our way down and still get some useful science accomplished. Sorry, but Ann Clayborne can bite me.
      • I did read Zubrin's Book, and even he is open to suggestions for one critical problem: getting the humans to Mars without full-body 3rd degree sunburn (from radiation). Lead-plated space capsules will be too heavy for an affordable approach, as they will affect payload, fuel, and Hoffman transfers.
        Human transport needs to be solved before teraforming becomes worthwhile. (Unless we just want to grow crops out there and let robots pick them.)
        • If you've read the book, you'll remember that the radiation in transit is far less dangerous than smoking. One quote of his I like is that if you put smokers on a trip to Mars, their chances of cancer go down.

          Also, by designing the craft such that the water and whatnot are on the outside you can mitigate the solar wind and cosmic ray threat. For solar flares, a small coffin/safehouse can be used for a few hours. One thing he didn't mention but that could be used is to generate a baby magnetic field to bo
  • by Zakabog ( 603757 ) <john@@@jmaug...com> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:33AM (#10076338)
    NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter begins working overtime today after completing a prime mission that discovered vast supplies of frozen water

    So when did that happen? I remember checking in on slashdot all the time and there would always be some thing about the mars rovers almost discovering water, but always missing some piece of evicende or something. I don't remember anything about an orbiter finding huge amounts of water (well I was on vacation for a month but I figured it would be pretty big on the news or something.)
  • by pedestrian crossing ( 802349 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:41AM (#10076357) Homepage Journal

    Since they found indications of lots of frozen water near the surface in the south polar region, I wonder if there are any plans to send a probe/rover there?

    They found "copius hydrogen" in the area, and "Researchers interpret the hydrogen as frozen water", but can we be sure without taking a look on the ground?

    Seems like the next logical step...

  • by rozz ( 766975 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:45AM (#10076363)
    NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter begins working overtime today

    sending overtime-work to Mars is the kind of outsourcing we all love

  • Working Overtime? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by strook ( 634807 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:49AM (#10076369)
    Wow, the orbiter lasted even longer than the estimated lifetime. Is anyone else noticing the inevitable pattern? NASA launches some sort of mission, gets some positive press, then a few months later more great news! Turns out the mission is lasting even longer than the estimates!

    Like the Mars rovers for example: [bbc.co.uk]

    Mission engineers have analysed power data for both Spirit and Opportunity which shows the vehicles are performing much better than they had expected....

    But the mission team adds that its original estimates of Mars' environment and the rovers' performance were very conservative.

    If I was smart enough to be a NASA engineer I think I'd figure out that people are much happier with your performance when you exceed expectations. It's not like anyone knows what to expect from a Mars orbiter anyways. Nobody looks at the mission statement before launch and says "400 days? Gee, for 3.3 billion I expected more in the range of 550-580 days."

    Not anyone I know anyways. Maybe other people have more astrophysicist friends.

    • by TCaM ( 308943 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:14AM (#10076431) Homepage
      Sounds like the Scotty symdrome.


      Scotty: Do ye mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now, and they want it their way. But the secret is to give only what they need, not what they want!

      LaForge: Yeah, well I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.

      Scotty: And how long would it really take?

      LaForge: An hour!

      Scotty: Oh, ye didn't tell him how long it would really take, did ye?

      LaForge: Well, of course I did.

      Scotty: Oh, laddie, ye've got a lot to learn if ye want people to think of ye as a miracle worker!
      • Re:Working Overtime? (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        See. That's what was wrong with TNG. It was too unrealistic. Any good engineer already knows that you need to pad the numbers.
        • Let's think about that for a second.

          Think about all the times the warp core nearly went critical. Think about all the blown relays and all of the power conduits that had to be rerouted.

          LaForge was not a good engineer. LaForge was a bad engineer.

        • I revised a lab course, and in one unit I asked them to time how long it takes to hook up a simple circuit on a Proto Board than then estimate how long it would take to implement a much more complex circuit that we implement with a FPGA because discrete TTL would take too long for the lab.

          The idea was to put some degree of industrial realism into a university course -- in industry you spend more time coming up with estimates and schedules than doing mathematical proofs of Fourier transform properties. Bu

    • by rherbert ( 565206 ) <slashdot.org@rTW ... .us minus author> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:38AM (#10076488) Homepage
      With things like satellites and rovers, whoever is paying for it says, "We want it to last 90 days / 2 years / 10 years." Then the company actually building the device charges them for it. If it's going to last 10 years, you'd better have a lot of backup in case of failure, which adds complexity to the software controlling the device... all of which rapidly escalate the price. So, when NASA says they want the rovers to last 90 days, they're built to last 90 days. Not less than 90 days, because then NASA will be mad. So inevitably, if you've done your job right, it's going to last a little bit longer. You don't just use the Mean Time to Failure, because that means that 50% of the time, you're going to fail before the mission end. So, things last longer than "expected." Then eventually things break, and because the device is so expensive, they pay people a bunch of money to sit around a table and try to figure out how to work around the thing that broke. You can't do this ahead of time because then you'd be spending a LOT of time trying to figure out how to work around EVERY possible failure, and you can't always do that. I wouldn't be surprised if the company that built the rover lost some sort of bonus because of the failure before mission end, but probably not the complete bonus because they were able to work around the problem.
    • Mir lasted about 10 years past its estimated lifetime, so NASA still has some work to do to get the record
    • Actually design life factors in heavily to nearly all engineering decisions. Solar panels decay with time, they get covered with dust. Bearing lubrication has some lifetime. Batteries can only take so many charge cycles. And maybe most importantly, NASA only has so much money to spend and keeping spacecraft alive after they leave Earth takes a lot of it. It's true that the engineerings of MER don't know how long it will last. It could die tomorrow. They nearly died just a week after they got there wi
    • It's not like anyone knows what to expect from a Mars orbiter anyways.

      I think you can start with the basic premise of actually reachine the destination, entering orbit, and sending back some data.

      There have been a few missions that haven't reached even that basic level of success. =)
  • by bstarrfield ( 761726 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:59AM (#10076393)

    According to the newly revised FLSA, the Mars Odyssey would be considered a professional exempt robot, as it's carrying out highly technical, professional tasks. Don't be mean and get the little robot's hopes up!

  • mission performance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thhamm ( 764787 )
    i think i once read, that Mars was the "target with highest failure rate".
    so this is a pretty good performance, with the two rovers still working (after doubling their designed lifetime?), Mars Odyssey, MSGS and Mars Express.
    and the biggest objective a huge success: yes there is/was water.

    no need to argue about the use of robotic missions for me. if you asked someone 10 years ago about water on mars: "yeah. water. mars. sure ..." :)
  • by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:02AM (#10076400) Journal
    An extended Mission until 2006 has been approved, and I hope it will last that long, maybe doing more safety checks for astronauts :)

    But surely the fact that Mars' surface gets 2 or 3 times what Earth's surface gets would stop any missions from happening anytime soon (as in, within the next 20 years)? Or is the radiation not actually a problem?
    • by dragonp12 ( 798787 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:05AM (#10076405)
      Surely, though, the radiation that hits Mars, even at 2 or 3 times what Earth's surface gets, would be far less than what hits the moon...
    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:34AM (#10076483) Journal
      The radiation on mars will not be nearly as big a deal as the trip to mars will be. It is almost certain that initially, we will have to live underground rather than on top. If we do so, it protects us from Radiation, 300 MPH winds, Easier to insulate, etc.etc.

      I am in hopes that we will send a private mission to mars and not have them return. It would be far more useful to send a small mission on a one way trip, with a supply ship once a year. They could build a small base, expand our knowledge of Mars a million fold over what simple remote vehicles do today, just due to the fact that they would need all sorts of cpu power there. In addition, they would be able to control system there quickly.
      • The radiation on mars will not be nearly as big a deal as the trip to mars will be. It is almost certain that initially, we will have to live underground rather than on top. If we do so, it protects us from Radiation, 300 MPH winds, Easier to insulate, etc.etc.

        Exactly. I'm mystified that NASA doesn't talk more about underground habitation. Hang a few plasma displays on the wall and you might just as well be in Hawaii (minus the 1/3 G gravity of course;). Regular centrifuge use may be necessary to prevent

        • The 300 MPH winds shouldn't be a very big deal though - the atmosphere is so thin you'd hardly feel anything.

          IFF it is the atmosphere hitting you. Have a straw, a pebble, etc. hit you at 300 MPH (in the face plate, no less), and you may feel a bit different about that.

          Yeah, the I think that with those winds and the ability to have the sun blocked for months on end, that you really have only one possible power source - Nukes. And it should be as high as possible. I think that the first few settlers will n

      • I am in hopes that we will send a private mission to mars and not have them return.

        Me too. "Captain Darl McBride" has a nice ring to it.

        Feel free to add suggestions for the remainder of the crew ;)

      • Winds on Mars will never get to 300 MPH. They might approach 30 m/s in a strong dust storm. That's about 70 MPH. They won't send a one way mission to Mars, NASA spends billions on safety, can you ever really imagine them doing that? Finally, although I am not against sending humans to Mars, I don't think they will be able to contribute that much new science over current rovers. What does additional CPU power get you? Maybe you can go a little furture each day, see some new rocks. But the current rove
  • by riqnevala ( 624343 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:19AM (#10076439) Journal
    How long does it take for Microsoft to get all patent rights for interplanetary email?

    There is also a new Microsoft innovation, called MS Solar time, method for keeping track of time on different planets. It is based on the microsoft scheduler and the office assistant "Kenny the Galactic Clock".
  • yay for Odyssey! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guano_Jim ( 157555 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:38AM (#10076490)
    Odyssey was launched in 2001... here's the mission timeline [nasa.gov] for more details.

    The cute little bugger looks like this. [vnexpress.net]

  • by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @07:13AM (#10076562) Homepage Journal
    A previous Slashdot story told us that Odyssey would be getting some new program featuring 'AI functions' so that it could do certain complex, but repetitive, tasks on its own without needing too much input.

    What would happen, however, it this made Odyssey sentient? Could it build more robots, develop further intelligence, and then end up populating all of Mars with robots? If this happened, we might be in trouble.
  • by mr breakfast ( 242421 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @08:47AM (#10076914)
    ... and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars...

    About time! for too long Mars has been a flat-shaded sphere.

    • ... and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars...

      About time! for too long Mars has been a flat-shaded sphere.

      They had to. id needed those textures for Doom 3.

  • "discovered vast supplies of frozen water"

    I must have missed that. All I've heard about was some frost at best. Where was this found?

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @09:48AM (#10077400)
    Both the Jupiter Gallileo and Venus Magellan projects went triple their design lifespans. However, they could have gone even longer, had NASA not canned them. Both were getting "creaky": insufficient propellant to do much, and instruments breaking down. Plus it costs a fair amount of money- up to 30% of the original mission cost per year- for a slice of the Deep Space Network and scientist to run and analyze the data.
    We'll probably see this debate about the Mars Rovers if they survive into 2005. Both are already 2.5x their design lifetimes, have some instrument failures (a sick wheel motor, a dead spectrograph), and are tying up a couple hundred engineer and scientists full time.
    • The Deep Space Network is probably one of the largest continuing costs of any mission, including the rovers. The rovers need the 70m antennae at Canberra/Madrid/Goldstone to do direct-to-earth low-bandwidth links, and running those 70m antennae is extremely expensive - and it comes out of the project's pockets. Fortunately, Odyssey has been working beautifully as a telecom relay, getting high bandwidth links to the rovers, and then getting a high bandwidth link DTE to send several dozen megabits of data b
  • "Other feats" (Score:3, Informative)

    by ScottMaxwell ( 108831 ) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:38PM (#10080978) Homepage
    Odyssey [nasa.gov] has been a great success in its own right, as well as providing critical support for MER. One of those "other feats" mentioned in the writeup included being the relay satellite for something like 90% of the Mars Exploration Rover downlink.

    It costs us a lot less energy to just uplink the data from MER to ODY and let them send it back to Earth than for us to send it all the way back to Earth directly. The energy we save that way, we can spend on driving around, doing science, and staying warm. ODY did such a great job relaying data for us that it soon became our preferred communication mode -- we haven't returned any significant amount of data through another path for months. (Though we did recently test that we can also return data via ESA's Mars Express [esa.int].)

    To put it another way, without ODY, we'd have only about 10% of the pretty pictures you can find at the MER home page [nasa.gov].

    So on behalf of all of us MERfolk: thanks, and congratulations, Odyssey!

    • after completing a prime mission that discovered vast supplies of frozen water ... As summer came to northern Mars and the north polar covering of frozen carbon dioxide shrank, Odyssey found abundant frozen water in the north, too.

    Anyone have any idea of the water quantities they are talking about here? If the surface has been mapped in the IR spectrum at 100m resolution then what is the surface coverage of water?

  • Maybe a bit off topic, but...
    http://www.rense.com/general48/stransge.htm [rense.com]

    The playboy bunny spotted on mars

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court