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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 biocute ( 936687 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:31AM (#27920933) Homepage

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

    This occurs to me recently when I had to copy a 600MB file via USB1.0 port to thumb drive, which would have taken about 20 minutes.

    I decided to stop the copying, took out my laptop, connected to the network, mapped drive and copied that file in 2 minutes, altogether less than 10 minutes.

  • Inflatable Tires? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @09:43AM (#27921071)

    I wonder if they could put inflatable tires on rovers and then manually adjust the pressure for each one to accomodate different soil types, a la WWII DUKW It might help the rover to better adapt to different kinds of soils.

    Of course, it would have to be designed for the different pressures of the martian atmosphere.

  • by NETHED ( 258016 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:10AM (#27921449) Homepage

    I've been wondering the same thing myself. I bet in the first 100 days, only very pre-planned experiments and moves were made.

    Now that we're what, 4 years in, I wonder if grad students are allowed minor joy rides in em. ("You published 2 Science papers, take Oppy for a spin").

    You know, now that I'm nearing the end of getting my PhD, it amazes me how science is done. And not in a good way. If you have not read the PhD Comic, you should, its funny because its (sadly) true.

  • by Rog-Mahal ( 1164607 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:15AM (#27921511)
    Let's get some real people up there! Our unmanned rovers have given us a lot of valuable scientific data, but our space program needs some new life breathed into it. The days of the Shuttle are numbered, and technology such as ion rockets seems very promising.
  • Gernsbeck Continuum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by afabbro ( 33948 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:19AM (#27921583) Homepage

    Reading that headline, "Spirit Stuck In Soft Soil On Mars," I thought I'd been transported back to a 1930s Northwest Smith story about a haunted being trapped in the Red Planet.

  • by Aquaseafoam ( 1271478 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:53AM (#27922159)
    How does a rover on Mars cost 4 million per year to operate? Personnel for operating the rover couldn't possibly cost that much, and I'm sure the communication infrastructure for it was already in place.
  • Re:Call a tow truck (Score:3, Interesting)

    by omris ( 1211900 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @11:18AM (#27922539)

    Boston is full of college kids, who are probably not New Englanders. And all of the natives around them have now evolved the most aggressively defensive driving style ever imagined to protect themselves. Not a good sample pool.

    Look at Maine.

    Or someplace that gets a lot of lake effect snow.

    Here in Rhode Island, people are terrified of snow. If they predict snow, all of a sudden there is no milk or bread in any store in the state. This always baffled me. Bread, ok. But WHY would you buy milk when there could be severe weather. If you're trapped in your house, your power will likely go out, and now you have a new gallon of spoiled milk. Genius.

    On the plus side, I repeatedly impress my neighbors by getting my car out of the snowbanks they make on top of it by shoveling their car out and dumping the snow on mine. I think they're bitter that I don't have to shovel if I don't want to.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @12:16PM (#27923355)

    Communications infrastructure maintenance costs and data warehousing maintenance costs probably don't come cheap for a project like this. I'm sure they don't communicate with these rovers over a walkie talkie.

    I don't know how many people are on the team that operate each rover, but lets assume five. I'm sure they're making a smidge more than $8/hr, so chalk up another million in pay and benefits right there.

    I read somewhere that your average local walmart has an operating cost between 1 and 1.5 million. These guys are performing science and maintaining a robot on another planet for a little less than 3 times that cost.

  • by Thumper_SVX ( 239525 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:26PM (#27924449) Homepage

    The personnel may not, but the building they're housed in might. Oh, and electricity costs, overall infrastructure share cost (plumbing, networking, etc).

    And from my experience, NASA doesn't build a new comms infrastructure for every launch. They have large consolidated arrays that are actually owned by separate companies... sometimes literally, sometimes they're just "shadow" companies. Communications time is "rented" from these companies at a set rate.

    Yes, sometimes it's all just a shell game when dealing within NASA and the USA, but it makes a certain kind of sense. Instead of having a communications infrastructure that's "in the dark" for 12 hours a day and can't talk to the rovers, they instead rent that infrastructure out to people "looking the other way" and rent antenna time in Australia, Japan, Russia etc. Having the arrays manage by another company actually keeps the books easier to keep straight than if you were a project owning your own infrastructure and leasing out antenna time to projects from ESA.

    And no, not a rocket scientist... but drank with plenty and a few have talked about this :)

  • Rover Driver's Blog (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrekkieTechie ( 1265532 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @01:28PM (#27924469)

    At night, there's a small red light in the sky. On that light lives four hundred pounds of thinking metal sent from Earth. I tell that metal what to do, and it does it.

    Scott Maxwell, one of the rover's drivers, has a blog [] detailing the events of the mission exactly five years behind schedule.

  • by ChrisA90278 ( 905188 ) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @05:10PM (#27928281)

    Personnel for operating the rover couldn't possibly cost that much,.....I'm sure the communication infrastructure for it was already in place.

    (1) Thos guys make between $85K and $120K per year. "overhead" about doubles that. This covers things like the building they work in, insurance, vacation pay and the bosses and office cleaning staff and capital equipment. So for $4M/year you get about 16 people full time.

    (2) The communications system is HUGE. We are taling about football sized antennas all around the world, satalites in orbit and so on. All these cost money and every space program has to pay a "tax" based on usage and so on. So your $4M does not cover 16 people.

    I've been in the software business for many years. I was surprized the first time I had to cost out a project. $1M does not buy many lines of code. We get about 250 lines of code per man-month.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"