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Mars NASA Science

NASA To Try Powering Mars Rover "Spirit" Out of Sand Trap 118

coondoggie writes "NASA's long-running Mars rover Spirit is stuck in a sand trap — a situation the space agency would like to fix. Yesterday NASA said it will begin what it called the long process of extricating Spirit by sending commands that could free the rover. Spirit has been stuck in a place NASA calls 'Troy' since April 23, when the rover's wheels broke through a crust on the surface that was covering bright-toned, slippery sand underneath. After a few drive attempts to get Spirit out in the subsequent days, it began sinking deeper in the sand trap. Driving was suspended to allow time for tests and reviews of possible escape strategies, NASA stated."
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NASA To Try Powering Mars Rover "Spirit" Out of Sand Trap

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  • by slifox ( 605302 ) * on Saturday November 14, 2009 @07:03AM (#30096318)
    It seems like future rovers should have instrumentation to sense the composition of the ground they are about to tread over, as well as extra limbs that can be used to repair the rover (even just a brush to clean the solar panels) or assist its movement (grappling hook?)

    Say what you will about NASA's large budgets or sometimes questionable research efforts... when put to the task, they can produce some remarkable feats of engineering

    The longevity of the Mars rovers never ceases to amaze me. Just the fact that we are controlling robots we landed on Mars is cool enough, but that they lasted 22 times longer than their intended 90-day lifetime in the harsh Mars environment, is truly an example of quality engineering.

    Of course, their over-engineering of human risk-related matters leaves something to be desired. Anyone exploring uncharted territories has to accept the risks involved, including the possibility of a one way trip. Is that really such a bad thing though? There are plenty of risk-takers who thrive on this, and plenty of them would love to make history as part of the first colonization team on the moon (for example).

    Instead of focusing resources on ensuring safe return, we should spend those resources on setting up permanent, sustainable facilities on the moon, so that we can slowly reduce our need to continually send materials. Is shipping miniature mining and production robot/facility to the moon that unimaginable? Once you can harvest and produce key materials on the moon, the task of setting up long-term human habitats becomes at least slightly easier.

    I really hope the commercialization of space travel is the catalyst needed to accelerate the development of space colonization, and I hope that the excessive human-risk aversion policies that arguably held NASA back are not forced upon the participating private companies of the new space era.

    On yet another mildly-unrelated note:
    I'd love to see more development on the Launch Loop concept, which seems WAY more feasible than the space elevators... no science/technology breakthroughs are required, just a lot of energy and money ;) []
  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @08:00AM (#30096524) Journal

    It is not Boogarian, but Bulgarian*.

    Something along the lines of... "Put two planks under the tires, get two martians to push and then floor it."

    *IANAB, nor do I speak Bulgarian but it is quite similar to other Slavic languages, including Bosnian - which I do speak.

  • Use the arm ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @08:17AM (#30096590) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if they've thought of using the robotic arm, either to dig away some of the sand obstructing the wheels or to support the rover while they try to move it. I know from driving 360 excavators that your arm can be most useful in that respect, especially if you move the arm backwards at the same time as pushing down and driving. Maybe the arm's not strong enough, or the rover can't operate its wheels and the arm at the same time, but surely that's just programming. An alternative is to pick up small stones and place them by the wheels to get some traction. There is a more complete pictorial record here. []
  • Overly ambitious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @11:16AM (#30097650) Journal
    That's how a rover which was designed to be cheap and lightweight would have become a multiton semi-mobile laboratory. Adding on accessories and desirable features, then stronger equipment to carry it all, is how much larger and more expensive space probes are created. Problems with such designs caused smaller and simpler designs to be favored. But... why aren't there six more of these things wandering around by now?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:02PM (#30098536)


    A manned mission could have also accomplished all of the science Spirit has done in five years in a week, tops.

  • Re:Overly ambitious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:13PM (#30098640) Homepage

    But... why aren't there six more of these things wandering around by now?

    Why should there be six more wandering around? Their landing systems only allow them to reach a very small proportion of the Martian surface and they are only designed to answer a limited series of scientific questions during their very brief lifespan. Also, odds are that of those six, two would have died shortly after landing, three would have died on or about the ninety day limit, and the remaining one would have died during the first winter. (I.E. it's very hard to give an analogy that even remotely conveys how miraculous it is that Spirit and Opportunity are still functioning.)

  • Re:Overly ambitious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScottMaxwell ( 108831 ) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @02:22PM (#30099320) Homepage

    why aren't there six more of these things wandering around by now?

    Because I can drive only two at a time. When these two are done (gods forbid), then it's time to send two more. :-)

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @02:25PM (#30099370) Journal

    A manned mission could have also accomplished all of the science Spirit has done in five years in a week, tops.

    And cost at least 100 times more.

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