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Mars Space Science

End of the Road For NASA's Mars Rover? 181

An anonymous reader writes "NASA celebrated Mars rover Spirit's bountiful, six-year stint on the red planet on Sunday – way longer than its forecast three-month mission. But it all may soon come to an end, stuck as it is in Martian sand."
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End of the Road For NASA's Mars Rover?

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  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <sopssa@email.com> on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:38PM (#30642220) Journal

    They're trying to spin the wheels [slashdot.org] so that the rover digs deeper in the sand, but could adjust solar panels in to better position. It probably couldn't get up from there anymore, but could still remain in operation in the sand pit.

    Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

    But without Spirit, is there really any Opportunity to succeed?

  • Way to go, NASA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:56PM (#30642544)

    As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

  • by Alcimedes ( 398213 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:56PM (#30642548)

    I'd just like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to the folks that designed this rover. It was slated for a 180 day mission, and they just finished up day 2,190. That's some pretty high quality engineering that must have gone into this project, especially when you take into account it's on *another planet*, so no tech to fiddle with something that's just a bit off here or there.

    No parts, no cleaning, no help at all. To top that off, it's doing all of this on Mars, which isn't really an electronics friendly environment. It crash landed on another planet from a rocket ship and worked 10x longer than it was supposed to.

    Well done.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:59PM (#30642598) Journal

    IIRC they put it in "low power mode" last Martian winter and were pleasantly surprised when it survived, booted up, and restarted communications with Earth again when there was enough sunlight available. The trouble is, this year it's stuck at a less-than-ideal angle for collecting sunlight so there may be less of a chance of a springtime startup unless they can adjust the position, which of course takes, well, power. It's a risk either way. Plus, I think it's just locked up a second wheel, leaving it with 4 of 6.

    So we'll see. If it can't move again but gets power, its utility as a science platform is going to be severely impacted. Still, it will be able to collect data and pictures of the changing landscape in its immediate vicinity, and it seems to have gotten stuck in an interesting spot, so there will still be useful data coming out of it.

    And since the warranty ran out 5+ years ago, I think even a partly functional stationary science platform is pretty darned impressive.

    Even after six years, the simple fact that Mankind has working scientific instruments on Mars gives me a geekgasm all over again.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:03PM (#30642668)

    Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

    Air pressure averages about 1% of Earth's. There simply isn't enough atmosphere to justify a fan or the power it would draw.

  • by Web Goddess ( 133348 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:34PM (#30643128)

    I dunno what's with the blame game, it's alone on Mars, something was going to go wrong eventually. If the designers had made an improvement that would alleviate THIS problem, something else would be missing making THAT a problem.

    Oh if only someone had thought to turn the radioactive heating units into emergency backup power! (sarcasm) If only someone had thought to install fans to blow the dust off! (previous poster, more sarcasm.)

    It is an incredibly well-designed machine; just like with the human body, everything has a cost. Improving one item means less for the rest.

    When I toured JPL it was obvious that the people there have an emotional bond with this little animal robot, its gritty determination, it's spirit of exploration.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:43PM (#30643218) Homepage

    ...no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully...

    Huh? While mission of Soviet Mars 3 lander was pretty much a failure (transmission ended 20s after landing due to unknown reasons; what it transmitted and observations suggest it had the misfortune of landing in extreme dust storm), it has successfully landed. It was the first man-made objest on Mars that did.

    There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:59PM (#30643418) Homepage Journal

    "wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?"

    It was only expected to go 90 days, and not expected to suffer much dust or winter over.

    Another in the long line of 'why didn't they'. As in:

    "Why didn't they build these things to last 6 years?" Answer: They weren't expected to.

    "Why didn't they think of this or that?" Answer: The mission requirements did not include that.

    "Why did they do this or that?" Answer: They exercised their best judgement at the time. So far, so good.

    What part of exceeding your expectations by 24 times are you complaining about? Your GF expected a 1.0+ct diamond, and she got a 24-ct one? She complains it's VSS-1? That it's heavy? That it catches on her clothes? That it blinds people on the street?

    And does she ask you how much you paid for it, and you end up telling her the truth, you paid for a 1/4 ct brilliant, and wow, 6 years later ya got this...

    Again, no complaints about the Rovers. Spectacular performance. And NASA is scouting around for the next robotic mission. Ask some of these guys for ideas, anyone?

  • by eples ( 239989 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:19PM (#30643726)

    There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

    Just landing isn't much of an accomplishment. Did the Soviets get any useful science from the landing itself? They don't even know why it stopped working after it landed (successfully). Please, remember this all you want - I have no objection.

  • Send more! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by J05H ( 5625 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:40PM (#30644018) Homepage

    These rovers are a very mature design that has worked flawlessly. Build and send a dozen of them.

  • by DrVxD ( 184537 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:45PM (#30644076) Homepage Journal

    There's an old trueism - "you get something right, nobody remembers. You get something wrong, nobody forgets."
    Sadly, no organisation in history has suffered from that more than NASA.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday January 04, 2010 @04:22PM (#30645446) Homepage Journal

    There's a 1928 Duesenberg that has never had any maintenance whaever, not even an oil change, and it's still working. However, it has a flat tire and can't get to the gas station and it's almost out of gas.

    Except it's on Mars.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @05:09PM (#30646226) Journal

    It's hard to verify that something landed when you hardly get any data back. It may be indistinguishable from a semi-crash.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain