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Mars NASA Robotics Space

Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars 160

cheros writes "NASA reports that the Spirit Mars lander is presently stuck in soft soil. The lander's wheels are halfway sunk into the soil and they are planning simulation tests to see if they can get it out again. I hope they can get it out of there because it's picking up enough new energy to operate; however, it only has 5 wheels left to get around on — one of the wheels hasn't been working for years. Fingers crossed."
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Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars

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  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:32AM (#27920947) Homepage


    same as your 20 minutes waiting is cheaper than buying you a new laptop with Usb 2.0 high speed ports.

  • by yogibaer ( 757010 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:40AM (#27921041)
    In an era where time is the devil and speed is God, it's interesting and heart warming to see that there is actually an engineering job where you can spend weeks looking at the dust under your feet, comtemplate your (modest) goals (another 100 feet, yeah!) and then very, very slowly take you next step. And if a dust storm comes along, just wait for the next breeze to gently brush the dust of your panels and let the sunshine in. Envious. Quite envious.
  • by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:47AM (#27921123)

    It's great to see that the rovers have lived on for so long, even if they are showing some wear-n-tear, but given the circumstances, they're clearly well built and I'd buy a used one off ebay any day (uh, shipper pays postage).

    I'm curious though, in a totally non-judgmental way, about the cost of the program in general; they expected the rovers to last, what, 90 days? So presumably someone budgeted so many resources here on Earth for people, etc., for that length of time. Since the rovers have been doing such a great job of defying expectations, what kind of effect does that have on the budget for the program; is it sufficiently small enough that it just gets lost in the wash?

    Also, since their plans were presumably all built for a 90-day time frame, how do they determine what to do now? Do they take requests from PhD candidates and researchers from around the world?

  • by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:09AM (#27921445) Homepage

    Does anyone know if managing the twins is still cheaper than sending a new rover?

    Sending a new rover for what? There is a new rover on the way, but that does not make Spirit and Opportunity any less valuable. Even getting stuck in soft soil is doing science: the things that the scientists learn from the experience (what soft soil looks like when you approach it, what techniques to use to get out, how to built a rover that can handle it) will be useful.

    And don't forget, turning up this soft soil may reveal something important. Many of Spirit's discoveries were because of soil turned over due to her stuck wheel.

  • by Phairdon ( 1158023 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:27AM (#27921705)

    I'm assuming that you have gone straight through school to get your PhD and haven't had a job in industry yet. If I'm wrong, then I'm sorry.

    One thing that I learned after graduating with my degrees and getting a real job is that real science and engineering is much different than school and research science.

    Real science is when you are working on a spacecraft (or some other physical product) and trying to get a real vehicle in the air. School science and lots of research science is plagued by lots of bad things that get mentioned in PhD Comic. I work on trying to get a vehicle in the air and I get really frustrated with some groups out there that we work with that are mainly for research and they don't get the big picture.

  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:27AM (#27921707) Journal

    By far, the largest cost of the project was building the rovers and sending them to Mars. Every day of return amortizes the cost of sending the rovers to Mars. The scientists studying the data sent back would have been studying data regardless. This just means they have gotten way more data than they could have hoped for.

  • by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <> on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:29AM (#27921747) Homepage Journal

    My understanding is that NASA designed the rovers to last as long as possible, but only committed to 90 days. Saying its good for a year and getting 6 months would be bad, saying its good for 90 days and making it 6 months is great :)

    Lowered expectations.

  • by dreamt ( 14798 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:33AM (#27921813)

    I don't know that I have ever met a native New Englander that has any idea how to drive (especially in the snow)! At least nowhere near Boston.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:18AM (#27922541)

    Real science is when you are working on a spacecraft (or some other physical product) and trying to get a real vehicle in the air.

    I always thought that was engineering. Don't get me wrong. I have great respect for both and scientists spend a significant time doing engineering, but building a spacecraft isn't testing a hypothesis. It's not science at all. It's what you do with the spacecraft after it's launched that's science. As someone who works with JPL, I've seen first hand how the engineering project becomes more important that the science experiments it was designed to run.

  • by yuriyg ( 926419 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:58AM (#27923107)
    Don't be so quick to judge. If the GP is a highly paid professional, his time actually might worth more than a modern netbook.
    Same story with the rovers. That was a legit question.
  • by 2short ( 466733 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @12:18PM (#27923373)
    Well, while it sounds simple in press reports, you don't really design something to last 90 days exactly.

    You make some estimates and design something such that you think it has (for example) a 95% chance of lasting 90 days. You don't want to send the thing to Mars without being pretty sure it's going to last for the length of time you've decided will make it worth sending.

    But if it has a 95% chance of lasting 90 days, how long does it have a 50% chance of lasting? Probably years. "How long can you say it will last with a high degree of confidence?" is a very different question than "What's your best guess?"

    The durability of the rovers, while impressive, is not as completely shocking as it might first seem.
  • by rackserverdeals ( 1503561 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @12:20PM (#27923413) Homepage Journal

    I think you're not understanding things. People don't want to drive or are worried about being able to buy during/after a storm as someone mentioned earlier.

    The problem isn't that people are buying 10x more milk, it's that 10x more people came into the store. Or whatever the multiple is.

    When there's a storm more people will go shopping in the day before the storm than after the storm. The market gets products delivered daily and sells it slowly throughout the week but when there's a rush to get emergency provisions, they get more people into the store than a usual day because people plan on not shopping for the next few days.

  • by weszz ( 710261 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:11PM (#27924209)

    Beer and TP.

    In Wisconsin when there is a severe snowstorm predicted, those two sell out.

    Milk is nice, but the beer and TP will help you weather the storm.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @04:54PM (#27928021) Journal

    That's the wonder of having an open ended mission without any specific goals. Go slow and produce something every once-in-awhile and you stay employed.

    They "go slow" for a reason. For one, they only get approximately 2 communication sessions a day. If you let the rover keep trying something on its own, it may end up even more stuck. Thus, they back out incrementally and slowly.

    Further, it takes time to set up simulations of specific situations. Before opportunity went down into its first big crater, they studied the pathway photos and reproduced a test-bed with similar-looking rock and gravel. They went to the local Home & Garden Depot and purchased a bunch of flat patio rocks, chiseled them to shape, and stuck BB's into notches to simulate the so-called "blue-berries" discovered in the area (and in the crater photos). The interns that helped work on that must have been tickled. "Mom, I built Mars in NASA's back lot! I hope you still have Tide."

    I see very little reason to rush things unless there's a known time-limit. Plus, the rover can take multi-spectrum photos and readings of the surrounding area while waiting. It takes times to send big photos back unless you compress all the good details out of them. It's like dial-up across 70 million miles. While on the move the rovers cannot stop to smell the roses very deeply as they can while waiting for something.

    And, I hope future rovers have bigger wheels. This is about the 5th time I've read of getting stuck in sand/soil to some degree.

  • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @04:59PM (#27928119)

    You seem to be saying, humans on mars can do more than humans controlling probes, if you ignore the difficulty and expense of getting them there and keeping them alive and operating.

    When Bush suggested launching new missions to the moon and mars, the NASA estimate for the entire effort came out to $120 billion. The Mars Rover missions cost something like a billion each. That means that for the price of 120 remote missions we can afford to launch two manned missions - one to the moon, and one to mars. Following missions would be significantly cheaper, since the initial R&D and infrastructure costs would have already been covered.

    Even if they only stayed there for a couple days the astronauts could gather more data than a dozen rover missions, AND they could bring back samples for earth-side analysis - something which is essentially impossible with probes.

    I suggest they not only can, but have. It is not clear to me manned missions will ever achieve what remote probes are doing now. e.g. years of operation on mars.

    Doing something for years and years is only an accomplishment when there isn't a faster way of doing it. If you spend years manually calculating the value of Pi to the Nth digit and someone comes along with a computer and replicates the same feat in half a second, does that mean that his achievement was somehow inferior to yours because it took less time?

    Human missions don't need to "achieve years of operation on Mars" in order to justify the expense. A couple days of human time on mars will achieve FAR more than your "years of operation" via rover.

    But in any case it seems clear to me that these goals are best advanced today by gaining as much knowledge of other planets as we can.


    How did we get to the moon? By building better telescopes and studying it in detail from the ground? Or by developing rockets?

    The only things we need to know in order to create settlements on Mars and the Moon is:

    1. How to get there.
    2. How to take our environment with us.
    3. What hazards to expect during the journey and after arrival.

    Gaining more knowledge about our destinations is a great idea, but it does nothing to actually get us there. At best it gives us a better understanding of what to pack before we leave - at worst it provides no relevant insights.

    If they are better for the job, where are they?

    Waiting for the funding, mainly.

    Saying manned exploration is better if you ignore the drawbacks of manned exploration is just dumb.

    The only drawback is that politicians don't want to authorize the necessary funding when it's much simpler to just toss NASA a bit of spare cash every now and then, and pretend that it's being well spent.

    You're arguing that manned Mars missions haven't accomplished anything, so we shouldn't fund manned missions. The reason they haven't accomplished anything is because we haven't funded any. That's a circular argument. If you do not fund a line of research, you cannot use the the lack of results as a reason for not funding it. Otherwise we could have used the same "logic" to refuse funding for remote missions in the first place, or for any space exploration whatsoever. Using that argument, we would have simply said "nobody has ever launched anything into space, therefore we shouldn't bother funding rocket research, and should make better telescopes instead". NASA would have, quite literally, never gotten off the ground.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen