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NASA Space Science

Comet Probes Given New Duties 48

iamlucky13 writes "In January of 2004, the NASA's Stardust mission made a flyby of comet Wild-2, taking images and collecting samples from its tail that have since been returned to earth in a detachable capsule. On July 4, 2005, Deep Impact smashed a 350 kg projectile traveling 37,000 km/h into comet Tempel 1 as part of its studies of that object. With both craft in good shape at the end of their missions, NASA has been considering additional tasks for the probes. These plans have now been confirmed with a variety of tasks costing an estimated 15% what a new mission would. Among the new duties will be a revisit of Tempel 1, a flyby of comet Boethin, and transit studies of known extra-solar planets."
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Comet Probes Given New Duties

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  • good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SolusSD ( 680489 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @09:42PM (#19762309) Homepage
    I think nasa should make it standard mission procedure to plan several possible missions for each probe they send. Its unfortunate that there isn't more interest in space travel- but they may be able to spark more interest with more ambitious missions.
    • Re:good (Score:5, Informative)

      by THE anonymus coward ( 92468 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @09:49PM (#19762351) Homepage
      Mass Margins are really tight when a mission is in the planning phase... there are times when a mission can have a follow on mission (e.g. Mars Global Surveyor had a relay antenna so that it could relay data while in orbit around Mars), but for the most part, every part of the mission is tailored specifically for the task at hand. Secondary missions are just that, an after-thought of what could be done with the hardware that is on board. Fortunately, the scientists are creative enough to explore this and come up with some really good ideas on how to use the on board equipment for solid science.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by beckerist ( 985855 )
        every part of the mission is tailored specifically for the task at hand
        Precisely. NASA's budget is $16.8 Billion (US) and dropping relatively to the strength of the dollar. [wikipedia.org]

        Though it seems like a lot of money, compare to ANY other governmental program (consider Welfare at 14% of the US GDP [wikipedia.org] means that almost 2 trillion dollars are spent YEARLY on welfare alone! Now also keep in mind this includes corporate welfare...)

        My point being, is that given the scientific, bureaucratic, safety, social, political and
    • Re:good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ushering05401 ( 1086795 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @09:55PM (#19762417) Journal
      I think they are doing the right thing by keeping mission expectations low. Ambitious missions that fail to deliver are seen as failures by shortsighted lawmakers. Toned down missions that outperform look much better.

      Most people only follow space exploration at the soundbite level (evening news or whatnot). Hearing that yet another vehicle continues to operate beyond its life expectancy is a good way to create a positive perception of NASA in the general public.

      Regards.
      • Re:good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @10:31PM (#19762681) Homepage
        Same thing goes for just about anything. Don't promise what you can't provide. In my 4th year software engineering project class for university, some students took on monumental projects, and had to scale them back quite a bit to get something finished. The professor actually took this into consideration and many students lost marks because of it. However, the groups that were able to properly scope a project for the resources they had available were given better marks because it showed better planning ability. Vista is seen as a failure because of all the things it didn't provide (Monad shell, WinFS), and because it was way behind schedule. Even though it has some good features, it's seen as a failure because they promised so much that didn't show up in the end.
        • Re:good (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Friday July 06, 2007 @12:09AM (#19763309) Homepage Journal
          The problem with this is, the people that start out chasing after the sun and the moon and the stars tend to deliver more than the people that deliver exactly what they promised. I see this in corporate programming all the time. Developers afraid of missing deadlines never take risks, and for that matter, never really push themselves. As a result, the client is actually grotesquely undeserved.

          Translated to what we have at NASA or even the DOD today, you have an underpromising risk adverse group of people that still wind up burning through money unnecessarily because they spend it all trying to figure out how to do it all within a precise window. If you look at the sorts of radical research that came about between the 1950s and 1960s, versus what we have today, and I think you'd have to conclude that NASA has utterly lost its nerve. Sometimes you just have to put a guy up on top of a missile to see if it won't blow up. NASA would never do that today, and that is why we have not yet gone back to the moon or to mars.

          It's that, they are all a bunch of pussies now, as are most American engineers.
          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Sometimes you just have to put a guy up on top of a missile to see if it won't blow up. NASA would never do that today, and that is why we have not yet gone back to the moon or to mars.

            It's that, they are all a bunch of pussies now, as are most American engineers.

            Oh, I see we have a brave volunteer here, ... step up in the limelight, man! Grateful humanity cheers You!
          • The problem with this is, the people that start out chasing after the sun and the moon and the stars tend to deliver more than the people that deliver exactly what they promised.
            Then do it, just don't tell everyone. Is it really going to matter that much to people that chase after the sun and the moon and the stars whether or not someone else knows they are? Public perception has to be taken into consideration, since it effects the resources they have to work with.
          • by khchung ( 462899 )

            The problem with this is, the people that start out chasing after the sun and the moon and the stars tend to deliver more than the people that deliver exactly what they promised.


            Perhaps that's because people that start out chasing after the sun and the moon and the stars also got a sky-high budget to start with? While people making down-to-earth promises got only down-to-earth budgets?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kiracatgirl ( 791797 )
      But then if it didn't manage all of it, people would point and say "Look, see? NASA sucks!" It's much better for them, in my opinion, to underestimate how much they'll be able to do with it. Then they're almost certain to get what they planned done, and this extra stuff is seen as a bonus.
    • Re:good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater@@@gmail...com> on Thursday July 05, 2007 @11:23PM (#19763009) Homepage

      I think nasa should make it standard mission procedure to plan several possible missions for each probe they send.

      You can't really do that - as you don't know what kind of shape the probe will be in at the end of it's primary mission. That being said, it's been NASA's tacit policy for years to run their probes until they drop if at all possible.
    • I think nasa should make it standard mission procedure to plan several possible missions for each probe they send. Its unfortunate that there isn't more interest in space travel- but they may be able to spark more interest with more ambitious missions.

      Anything funded by NASA has both a downscope and an upscope -- and usually several of them. As a matter of fact, during the development of a large project, it is quite normal that the total amount of available money goes up or down by a significant margin. So every part and piece is always planned on the the basis of "what do we want to do here, what could we do with 20% less money, what would be possible if we could get 20% more mass, power, funds...".

      There's no subsystem that is just planned as one th

  • This is awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by THE anonymus coward ( 92468 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @09:45PM (#19762331) Homepage
    The ability to reuse a spacecraft like this is great. This is of particular interest to the slashdot community because it is a sweet hack to take seven year old hardware that was designed for a specific mission and with whatever delta-v margin that is left over from the primary mission run a secondary mission. What is more is that we know that these are proven spacecraft that have been running nominally for a long time, so instead of 100% of the cost of a new mission that only may or may not fulfill the science mission, it is 15% of the cost for a known-good spacecraft that is as close to guaranteed to bring back good science.

    Maybe I am one of a very small minority on slashdot who gets excited about this stuff...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      This is a really great precedent for them to set for the future. If you look at a lot of the craft NASA puts up there, they are built with robust enough systems (not needlessly) to allow for almost any form of technical repair and in this instance providing new, unforeseen possibilities with the craft. Besides allowing them to save budget money (something they always need to do) it also help them learn more about providing a little bit extra for other future unforeseens.
      • Re:This is awesome (Score:5, Informative)

        by Aglassis ( 10161 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @11:02PM (#19762897)
        This is a really great precedent for them to set for the future.

        Precedent? Hardly. Voyager 2 was originally only planned to flyby only Jupiter and Saturn. The engineers worked without permission from NASA management to build the spacecraft to be able to do a successful flyby of Uranus and Neptune (the probes had an official specification of their lifetimes of something on the order of 3 years or so). Eventually they were able to convince the management that if Voyager 1 was operating safely in space and was looking like it was going to be able to get a good look at Titan then Voyager 2 could reprogram its trajectory so that it could do the flybys of Uranus and Neptune. It was not possible for the Voyager probes to do the specified flyby of Titan and also visit Uranus and Neptune. If Voyager 1 would have blown up or had a problem in space then Voyager 2 would have done the flyby of Titan.

        Though to be honest, I'm not even sure if this mission set the original precedent of mission extensions to check out other stuff.
        • Voyager 2 was done without management's permission, as you said, while this is quiet deliberately being done by management. I'm not a huge space buff but AFAIK this is maintaining what happened with the mars landers and hopefully continues to happen.

          So yes, I believe it is a precedent.
  • by SimonInOz ( 579741 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @09:52PM (#19762389)
    You have to hand it to the NASA folks. When they get things to work (and they don't always, Mars was somewhat troublesome) they do give good value.

    Those little rovers are STILL going. There were supposed to last about 3 months and they are still plugging along. And one with a limp - so valiant! And as for the Voyagers, I gulp. SO cool.

    Yes, they have some horrible bureaucratic problems. Yes, they have some sever political challenges. But credit where credit is due.

    Well done chaps.
    • by niloroth ( 462586 ) on Friday July 06, 2007 @12:51AM (#19763609) Homepage
      The NASA folks have done absolute wonders with UNMANED missions. The ones with people on board on the other hand...

      Here we are reading about expanded missions, the potential for more data than initially thought, the ability to retask a probe on another planet, or out in space, for a uses that no one even thought of when it was launched years before. And we are getting real and useful information from these missions. All without risking a single life, and at fractions of the cost of manned missions.

      I realize that i sound like a broken record on this topic, but really, is there anyone left who doesn't think that one of the biggest roadblocks in the way of our learning about other planets and our solar system is the push for manned space exploration? We are putting people in a tin fort at the edge of our atmosphere, and celebrating it as an accomplishment? What is that going to get us at the moment? Can anyone really justify it as fiscally sound, without having to resort to either 1) technology we don't have yet like a space ship to get us to mars, 2) study of the effects of low gravity on humans (hint, it's bad, we know that), 3) or as a staging area for mars? (it won't be)

      I am not saying we should never think about going out into space, but now is not the time. Lets work on designing the ships that will take us there, and figuring out how we are going to do it first. Most of that can be done in labs and in virtual reality, only towards the end of the design cycle will we have to go back out there, and i can almost guarantee you we will not need to stop off at the ISS.

      Please write your congress people about the need to fund NASA, and the need to not sacrifice good unmanned missions in the face of wasteful and dangerous manned missions.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        The NASA folks have done absolute wonders with UNMANED missions

        Yup. On the others all that neck hair kept getting in the way.

      • It seems at least that this Congress has finally heard the call for more solid science. http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/06/2 1/1926222 [slashdot.org] The House Appropriations Subcommittee halted funding for any manned Mars mission R&D and upped funding for the rest of NASA's far more productive research. I for one have been complaining for the last couple years about Bush's unfunded mandate and am glad that the Appropriations Committee has a bit more sense this time around.
    • by Wavicle ( 181176 ) on Friday July 06, 2007 @02:08AM (#19764085)
      Back in my day, we didn't have 'extended science missions' or 'new duties.' Our spacecraft impacted other planets at high velocity and smashed into a billion tiny fragments, AND WE LIKED IT!
  • Impressive Camera (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @10:17PM (#19762591)
    I'm curious about the extra-solar planet observation part, I can't find much about the EPOCh observations beyond whats in the article and thats just that they're looking for rings, moons, earth-sized planets etc. They say they're using a transit method (where they detect the slight drop in intensity as a planet passes in front of its star,) and surely that camera is incapable of resolving any features that small. They are relying on the stars being close and bright though, curious what trick they're using.

    Definitely a great effort, its hard not to love those guys out in Pasadena.
    • Re:Impressive Camera (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Thursday July 05, 2007 @10:31PM (#19762683)
      All right, answered my own question, looks like you can detect third bodies and odd geometries (like rings) by looking for non-symmetric parts in the intensity variation as it transits the star. Found this paper ftp://ftp.iac.es/tepstuff/lisbon98/deeglis98.pdf [ftp.iac.es] (PDF file, I can't vouch for the site.) which describes some of the variations in the shape.
      I guess the camera has a high dynamic range but not particularly strong light collecting capabilities, which makes it ideal for doing this with bright, nearby stars, especially with all the assets already on orbit, where all that needs to be done is point and click. Pretty cool trick.
  • Franchises? (Score:1, Troll)

    by bryan1945 ( 301828 )
    If we could put up a McD's or a KFC store on the comets, do we have credit/debit machines there that are able to charge the aliens at the drive through? I assume park-side service would be unavailable since the roller skating martian cuties would probably just fly off into space.

    And don't forget 100% Angus methane!

The time spent on any item of the agenda [of a finance committee] will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved. -- C.N. Parkinson

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