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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 Web Goddess ( 133348 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:39PM (#30642238)

    I wish the poster had done a better job summarizing the situation. Spirit is stuck in the sand and can't rock itself free; because it's not moving, sand and dust is collecting on the solar panels; winter is coming on Mars, making the solar energy that much weaker anyway.

    But even as cute little rover sits there spinning, its wheels are doing Science, they dug down to a layer with sulfur. Sulfur indicates hydrothermal vents, and hydro is the greek word for water. Woot!

    A miracle could happen; a sandstorm could clean off the solar panels, allowing enough energy for a mighty push that could free the machine.

  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:48PM (#30642372) Journal

    Does it need continuous power to stay capable of operating? Or could it just wait over winter without power to see if there was a storm that cleaned its solar panels, and continue when more power is available again?

  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @12:58PM (#30642570)

    It needs enough power to at the very least maintain the heating of the components to a level where they will not be compromised. If the rover gets too cold over the winter, the actual materials of the rover could be damaged by the cold temperatures. In theory, it is possible that the rover could recover from a minimal power state if the panels were cleared of dust by a storm or something, but it's not all that likely. Mars is not a very hospitable place to begin with, and is a *very* bad place to run out of gas (proverbially).

  • "the lost century: the millennial archive hole"

    abstract: paper archives from the 1900s are still useable today, the only barrier being language conventions of that time period. additionally, digital records from the 2100s are usable today, due to mandated standardization of file formats and the prevalence of cheap, eternal nanoholographic storage. however, the 2000s consisted mainly of magnetic and optical storage on flimsy media. additionally, file formats were often proprietary, quirky, and ever changing due to the rapidly evolving nature of digital technology from that early era. if the actual media itself wasn't degraded, the file format itself was usually forgotten in a generation or two. finally, many early groundbreaking sites of the primitive internet are lost to posterity simply because they were designed to be ephemeral and ever changing, and no one thought to take archival snapshots of their content. it didn't seem important at the time. and so, the early decades of the digital age, when many fundamental crucial decisions were made that have defined our culture today, are forever lost to us

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

    by amabbi ( 570009 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:23PM (#30642972)

    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.

    I think it's also important to note that NASA is something like 5/6 in Mars landings.... no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully. People (correctly?) shit on NASA for its perceived failings in manned spaceflight but it has an unbeatable record in interplanetary exploration.

  • Re:Way to go, NASA! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rakishi ( 759894 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:34PM (#30643122)

    Sort of, the soviets managed to land intact on Mars twice. Of course since both lander stopped working within half a minute it's hard to really call them successful.

  • So? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:47PM (#30643264) Journal

    The covering stones of the Pyramids have been used to build other buildings. The Chinese wall has been dismantled for resources as well. Painting have been painted over for the want of a canvas. Tapes for tv-shows have been re-used because tapes were expensive and who cared about another sitcom.

    It is nothing new. We learned most of the egyptians from their dump site where they dropped tons of daily, and in their eyes, worthless communication. One accidently saved backup of MySpace will tell future researchers more then museums of our age. It is the data we don't care about that tells the most about us.

    Some floppies will survive, purely by accident, and it will be, enough. The holocaust is important for our generation and yet its most influential book, The Diary of Anne Frank, is an accident. You could have all the records of the holocaust in tact, and it still wouldn't speak as loudly. If all the diaries of all the victims still existed, then they would be meaningless, a huge pile of paper nobody would ever bother to read. Precisely because records of the past are rare, we value them. If we knew every move of the roman empire, had it all on paper, what would be there to explore? Proof? How many people study ancient history vs the present? You can get all the records of the current senate of the world most powerful nation... C-span. Nobody is watching.

  • by Lifyre ( 960576 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @01:51PM (#30643318)

    There is actually a windshield/glass technology out there now that can prevent (or at least slow) the dust from building up on the glass of the solar panels. Unfortunately it wasn't around when these guys were built, proven, and then shipped off to a strange hostile world where they have run around like little conquering heroes.

    These little guys (and by extension their designers, etc...) are a shining examples of going above and beyond the call of duty.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:20PM (#30643748) Homepage

    If we preserve 0.01% of the digital junk we keep around, the 2000s will be much better documented than the 1900s. Hell, I was reading not that long ago about a huge library of old newspapers (like dead tree from the 1800s) that was being thrown away, because no one wanted to pay for storage. It's all been digitized though, probably OCRs too so you can do things like search it instead of sifting through endless microfiles. One reason alone digital will survive because it's valuable, I just recently noticed a newspaper I read would let you access every edition back to 1945 for a fee. That earns money, having a vault of newspapers? I doubt it.

    Besides, who does anything valuable that's bound to a media format anymore? It's called a disc image, and let you store it on any digital medium without having a real floppy or CD or DVD or whatnot. I talked to a relative of mine, they were getting fiber installed now, 15/15 Mbit was the slowest they'd offer. With that, you can have version-preserving, offsite backups in multiple bunkers half-way around the globe, safe for all but armageddon. Even if half the world was nuked pretty much all music would survive if Spotify's servers do. And don't think there'd be any lost episodes of Doctor Who.

    The format stuff is overrated. Emulation and virtualization means no one cares if there's no more C64s and Spectrums and Amigas and Motorola Macs, the images still run. And just because you can't open an ancient doc file in Office 2007 on Windows 7, does anyone really think we honestly couldn't find a binary of Office 95, fire it up in a virtualized Windows 95 and look? The only things that are really lost are some obscure science formats that nobody had or saw the purpose of or stuff that could only be captured once, like the original moon landing tape.

    Sure there will be personal tragedies of people who didn't pay any attention but they already do. Many, many people have realized when their homes burned down that uh-oh, all our family photos went with it. But the abundance of bandwidth and storage we're seeing is also an incredible opportunity to make easy, lazy solutions. Also wireless broadband can eventually become cheap enough that you backup as you go, if you lose the camera you might lose that day's picture but not your month-long trip. The greatest danger you'll lose something is because your relatives had a little "accident" when you tried to show the 10431 pictures and 2554 minutes of video grandaunt Selma took of her little wonderbrat.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:27PM (#30643864) Homepage

    Two cans of computer duster in quick draw holsters. DUH!

    This is not rocket science here...... Oh wait....

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday January 04, 2010 @04:02PM (#30645086) Homepage

    Couldn't they have programmed some kind of self-cleaning cycle so these robots can fix themselves after sandstorms? The mission cost of a few extra actuators and a bottle of Windex seems pretty minimal versus robot death because of a particularly nasty storm.

    Well, NASA considered that themselves, and their cost-benefit analysis said it wasn't worth it.

    And that was back before they knew that the Martian wind would blow strongly enough to do a decent job of cleaning the panels on its own, and thus had estimated that in 90 days the panels would be covered in too much dust for the rover to operate.

    "A few extra actuators and a bottle of Windex", snarkiness aside, is easier to say than to actually engineer without compromising other parts of the mission.

    And now that we know that the Martian wind does blow, and as a result the rovers lasted for a good six years, then I have to say with hindsight that neglecting any sort of cleaning mechanism and the associated weight cost was unequivocally the correct choice.

  • Can RAT save Spirit? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zchris_gr ( 845137 ) <> on Monday January 04, 2010 @04:23PM (#30645466)
    I really wonder if the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) arm (the grinder arm) is strong enough to help Spirit move away from its sand trap... Christos/Greece

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"