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Mars Space The Almighty Buck United States Science

Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months 205

iamlucky13 writes "NASA has stated in the latest mission press release that funding for an additional 18 months of exploration has been approved. The rovers have breezed through 14 months of operation so far, and the money will cover expenses through September of 2006. The rovers are still operating well, and recently both experienced dramatic power boosts from their solar cells. They are no longer like new, however. Opportunity has recently experienced data loss from one of its spectrometers, while Spirit has a smudged camera lens, a heavily used rock abrasion tool, and has previously struggled with intermittent steering issues."
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Mars Rovers Get Extra 18 Months

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:25AM (#12152731)
    Will this be more or less expensive than keeping Voyager operative?
  • Good value... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:31AM (#12152762) Homepage
    Incremental costs of running them must be a bargain. Great to see how well these things were made.
  • Really nice new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MaDeR ( 826021 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:37AM (#12152803)
    I like both rovers. :) But I think they get more funding because of "to moon, _mars_ and beyond" thing. If NASA want to fulfill this goal, then must gather as much information as possible about Mars. I like idea of human presence on Moon and Mars, but not for price of cutting other succesful projects like Voyager.
  • by Seoulstriker ( 748895 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:38AM (#12152816)
    There are many shared costs involved: salaries of researchers, replacement equipment, dish-time. However, operating the rovers (both of them) is much more expensive because there is more science being done (cutting open rocks, spectroscopy, moving across the landscape) with the rovers than with the Voyager (sending back occasional data). The Voyager project is obviously less expensive to maintain than the rover projects.

    Frankly, Voyager is useless now, and money used to fund that project could be going to more worthwhile projects like the JPL rovers. The Voyager project was never meant to measure data outside of the solar system, but rather to gather data on the gas giants and outer planets. They accomplished that a long time ago.
  • Great News (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Cruithne ( 658153 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:40AM (#12152826)
    It's unfortunate that this probably wont make up for (in the general public's eyes) the previous mars rover's failures.

    If only the rest of the public held the majority view of slashdot (but only in this case... in general that would be SCARY).
  • by d4v3c ( 633946 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:40AM (#12152829)
    I wonder if this is related to Bush's goal of getting a man to Mars. The more we know about Mars, the better we might achieve that goal. Then again, if we kept Voyager going... the more we know about interstellar space, yeah, I know, we can't plant a nice big American flag in interspace.
  • Re:Well.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mboverload ( 657893 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:42AM (#12152847) Journal
    Only because it holds the public's interest.


    Steve: "Oh, hey bob, no one cares about voyager anymore, so lets just scrap it!"
    Bob: But it will be the first man made object ever to be in interstellar space! It will be the first transmission from out of our solar system!
    Steve: Will there be any pictures?
    Bob: Thats not the point
    Steve: But what are we supposed to show on TV?
    Bob: ........
    Steve: For motherland Russia!
    Bob: WTF? I thought this was NASA?
    Steve: mean, bring me that beer and hamburger! Time for Monday Night Football!

  • by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:47AM (#12152873) Homepage Journal
    Well done NASA and the MER team, you've really exceeded all expectations with this one! I'm really intrigued to see how long they'll continue to function. Aside from some minor issues, they're still in perfect working order.

    Here's hoping they'll be getting another extension in September 2006!
  • by filthy-raj ( 581774 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:49AM (#12152883)

    First, this is really ace! I have found this to be an enthralling journey and many would agree it has been an awesome success for NASA :D

    I was wondering though, I think it was advertised here on one of the /. banners ~15 months ago, wasn't there some cool APIs that were bundled into an open-source SDK that NASA (and Sun maybe?) had for the community? I think it was communications, instrumentation and control specifically. And I'm pretty sure it was Java and (maybe) MATLAB.

    If anyone knows what I'm on about, is there a still a link?? is there still interest?? I have some time atm to do some tinkering, any help is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks folks.

  • by The Cisco Kid ( 31490 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:04AM (#12152949)
    Im sure you were trying to be funny (and when it comes to the used car market, Id be 100% with you), but what 'breakdown' are you referring to? The whole point of the story is that even though the rovers were designed to last only three months, so far they have lasted almost 4 times that long, and are still going strong.
  • by Rakshasa Taisab ( 244699 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @09:24AM (#12153101) Homepage
    Voyager is only useless if you don't care about finding out what it the extra "pull" the probes are experiencing is real or not. You know, the dark matter thing?
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @11:42AM (#12154666) Journal
    These observations and what they may
    Ugh! You'd think NASA would hire people who know English to write their web pages.
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @02:15PM (#12156820) Journal
    This is from last month, but Space Daily's Bruce Moomaw has an extensive overview [] of NASA's future plans for Mars exploration, based on the results of the first meeting of the Mars Strategic Roadmap Committee. It's a highly recommended read.

    Some highlights:
    * The 2007 Phoenix [] will "land on the near-surface layer of ice-saturated ground discovered by the Mars Odyssey orbiter in Mars' north polar regions to study the ice itself and its potential for preserving biochemicals."
    * Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in 2009, which could boost the data rate coming back from Mars 10x to 100x.
    * The Mars Science Laboratory [] will likely be pushed back to 2011 (instead of 2009), but is likely to have two or more versions constructed and sent to different areas. The base cost for a single rover is estimated at $1 billion, but another rover is expected to add $400 million. The MSL (or MSLs) will be looking for traces of organic chemicals and be further investigating the geological/climate history of Mars. The MSL is expected to weigh 600 kg including 65 kg of scientific instruments, compared to the MERs which weigh 185 kg including 5 kg of scientific instruments.
    * There still seems to be considerable debate over when and how to launch a Mars Sample Return mission. One proposal I like is to send one (or more) to land near a MSL, have the MSL load a pre-drilled soil sample into the MSR, and then have the loaded MSR's return vehicle launch back.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @03:12PM (#12157520) Homepage
    Sorry, that should be "various fission core designs", in addition to the fusion core concept - thanks for catching my mistake. :) Yes, there are solid core, liquid core, and even gas/plasma core designs. Solid are the furthest along, but the least efficient.

    A number of different propulsion methods are discussed here [], although it's far from a complete list.

    The problem with Orion's acceleration is that it comes in bursts. Medusa involves using a large "sail", which captures more of the explosive force. The craft is tethered to the sail, and the long tethers act as extremely efficient shock absorbers. And, since they don't need a heavy "pusher plate" and shock absorption system (or as extensive shielding), it works out to be lighter overall (despite the massive sail)

    Mini-magnetospheric propulsion involves using plasma (most sustainably, from a fusion reactor, although that's not realistic yet) to create a miniature magnetosphere around a spacecraft. The spacecraft will then repel the solar wind for a large region around the craft without having any physical structure present there, acting like a solar sail without need for a sail. Since it's smaller in mass, it should get better propulsion.

    Antimatter-catalyzed microfusion/microfission is a great concept. Pure antimatter propulsion just costs way too much, and storing that much antimatter in a reasonable-sized container is currently unrealistic. However, a single antiproton collision can release enough localized energy to start a fission or fusion reaction on its own. So, the proposed engine (which NASA has been doing some work on) involves firing tiny grains of fissionable/fusable material, and firing antimatter beams at them inside the engine. Preso - a managable fission and/or fusion reaction.

    BTW - just because one scientist says so doesn't make it true. ;) The fact remains that black holes radiate Hawking radiation, which is all you need for them to be a viable propulsive concept.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN