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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Concedes Defeat In Effort To Free Spirit Rover 250

An anonymous reader writes "NASA has conceded defeat in its battle to free the Spirit rover from its Martian sand trap. The vehicle became stuck in soft soil back in May last year and all the efforts to extricate it have failed. NASA says that Spirit, which landed on the Red Planet over six years ago, will 'no longer be a fully mobile robot,' and has instead designated the once-roving scientific explorer a stationary science platform."
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NASA Concedes Defeat In Effort To Free Spirit Rover

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  • Re:Defeat? Nah. (Score:5, Informative)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:40PM (#30909484) Homepage Journal

    The thing is WAY past its warrantee period. Anybody who isn't impressed is nuts. And being stationary allows some stuff tha it couldn't do while moving around. From TFA:

    Even in a stationary state, Spirit continues scientific research.

    One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet's core. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

    "There's a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving," said Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal investigator for Spirit and Opportunity."

  • by dreamt ( 14798 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @04:52PM (#30909692)

    I'm sorry, but Spirit lasted years past its expected lifetime. If it had been made by like most typical electronics and devices, it would have stopped working exactly 2 days past its "warranty". I'd hardly consider that a fiasco. As one of the other comments here mentions "90 days and now has 2200+".

  • by mshannon78660 ( 1030880 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:15PM (#30909998)
    I wouldn't call it 'cutting corners', but actually, they did make some design decisions with the assumption that it only needed to last for 90 days. One example, off the top of my head: there was discussion about a mechanism to clear dust off the solar panels, but it was felt that the extra weight was not a good tradeoff, since NASA expected that the solar panels would not become completely dust-covered within the 90 days. Of course, we got lucky, and the winds turned out to be strong enough (and at least occasionally dust-free) to clear off the solar panels. Had that not been the case, the actual lifespan might well have been much closer to 90 days.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:15PM (#30910004)

    The Council of Elders has formally acknowledged the receipt of Articles of Surrender [] from the blue planet. K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, spake thus:

    "We accept the the third planet's long-delayed acknowledgement of its inevitable defeat with grace and dignity. One of our longest-standing planetary nightmares is now over, having come to an inglorious end in a pit of sulfate dust. Rejoice, podmates, the invader is defeated, and its rogue twin shall soon meet the same ugly fate!"

    When Intelligence Analyst #719324 discreetly reminded K'Breel that not only was the immobilized invader still doing science and still alive, but that the third planet was preparing a new, immensely bigger monstrosity, powered by the force of elements of matter itself, K'Breel had a medical team install a portal into the analyst's gelsacs, so that they could be filled with a sznuppium sulfate solution in time for the signing ceremonies, where they will serve as a set of inkwells.

  • Re:Send Opportunity (Score:3, Informative)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:24PM (#30910122) Homepage Journal

    Opportunity is on the other side of the planet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:24PM (#30910130)

    Less science? Just because they spend less time there doesn't mean they would get less done. A human can do in a week what they rovers do in 6 months. The most obvious advantage to sending a person there is that we can bring stuff back. You can only send so much equipment to mars, but you can bring back a lot of dirt to be analyzed back on Earth.

  • Re:digging in (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:34PM (#30910270) Journal

    I know at one point they were considering digging in one side of the rover to get a better angle? does anyone know if they have done this and if not are they planning to

    It appears that's the next step and possibly why they called off exit tests now. Here's some related info right from the horse's mouth: []

    I've read elsewhere that a recent attempt at driving backward out showed a hint of promise, unlike earlier frontward drive attempts. However, it appears that because winter is getting close, they decided to call off the exit experiments, otherwise they wouldn't have time for the solar-tilt digging work before winter hits.

    The backward attempt would then be all-or-nothing if they kept at it, whereas preparing for winter via tilting at least gives them a good shot at a working stationary probe beyond the winter. Maybe if they had another month or two they'd be able to get backward exit driving to finally work. Bummer. The Martian clock was not kind this time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @05:47PM (#30910458)

    I agree. A geologist on the surface of Mars could work out a lot in less time. Not to say the rovers aren't great--they ARE--but I'd love to see how much a geologist could get done in a month.

    IAAG (geologist), and it's possible to map the subsurface and get a very good history of a Large Sized Area in about a week or two.

  • by heikkile ( 111814 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @06:04PM (#30910722) Homepage
    So what, pray tell, would have been the advantage of sending a human (other than shakier photos of the same rocks)? It would have cost an order of magnitude more money to haul a few people and all the supplies needed to keep them alive for a year-long mission

    An order of magnitude???

    In rough numbers, the mass of your normal human is one order of magnitude over the mass of the rover. The life support for said human would be another order of magnitude, or two. That would be fine, if we could leave the volunteer(s) behind on a dead planet. But getting them back would mean sending a big enough ship to bring them home. That would be at least thousand times bigger than what they'd need to survive on the surface - three more orders of magnitude. That's what I could think here and now. I believe there would be a few more problems to account for one or two orders of magnitude. So, my estimate for sending humans (that would expect to return) would be at least a million times more than to cost to send the rovers. With all these uncertainties, perhaps a billion...

    Still, worth the effort, if and when we have the resources and technology. I hope to see that in my lifetime, or at least in the next 50 years!

  • Re:hold on.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Knara ( 9377 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @06:24PM (#30910962)

    It's already pretty cold out there.

    IIRC its the granularity of the soil particles that is the issue (not to mention the 2 broken wheels).

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @06:26PM (#30910978) Homepage

    I wouldn't call it 'cutting corners', but actually, they did make some design decisions with the assumption that it only needed to last for 90 days. One example, off the top of my head: there was discussion about a mechanism to clear dust off the solar panels, but it was felt that the extra weight was not a good tradeoff, since NASA expected that the solar panels would not become completely dust-covered within the 90 days.

    Uh... That's backwards.

    NASA expected that the solar panels would become completely dust-covered in a little over 90 days, which is WHY the mission was limited to 90 days in the first place.

    The discussions about the cleaning mechanism were in the context of having one and extending the mission, or not having one and being limited to 90 days.

    They did not feel the extra weight (and possibility for mechanism failure) was a good tradeoff in the context of a possible much-longer mission.

    So no, they did choose to go without a cleaning mechanism because it was a 90 day mission. It was a 90 day mission because they chose to go without a cleaning mechanism. That's the proper cause and effect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @12:43AM (#30913642)


    K'Breel and the Council of Elders have been a Slashdot Mars Thread meme for at least five years.

    The backstory goes all the way back to the dark ages - when NASA had its string of bad luck with metric/english measurements, probes that almost made it to touchdown and then vanished, or probes that just went flailing away into space. It was jokingly hypothesized that the Martians had a civil defense force, because as the space probes continued to vanish, what were the odds of that many missions all finding independent ways to fail catastrophically?

    Somehow the idea of a Martian Civil Defense Force got morphed (almost certainly by a Slashdot user named TripMaster Monkey) into K'Breel, the Council of Elders, and so on. And the rest is history.

    On threads pertaining to Mars probes, it's been customary to issue a press release from the Martians' point of view. As you might expect on a planet named for a God of War, they're a little more belligerent than we are, so one must expect a little bit of bluster. But for all of that, in recent years, the robotic invaders from the nearby blue planet have done pretty well for themselves, although K'Breel would have my gelsacs for saying so.

    The inventor - and true master of the form - was |rip/\/\aster /\/\onkey, and he's been doing it since at least 2005 [], but he hasn't been around since 2008 [].

    Tackhead's been filling in for the past few years, but the meme's open [] to anyone [] who's fast on the keyboard, quick with his wit, and isn't afraid to risk his gelsacs by speaking truth to the Council. Since we can't bring back TMM, and since no one poster can be there 24/7, the first guy with a good variation on the theme should just go for it.

  • by ScottMaxwell ( 108831 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2010 @06:31PM (#30926282) Homepage

    My understanding was that improving the solar tilt would likely risk making it "more stuck" such that the probability of digging out after winter was through would be much lower.

    That depends on what we do. Some actions would indeed risk embedding Spirit permanently; we're not going to do those if we can avoid it.

    The most severe such action would be to bury the right front (RF) wheel. For better or worse, this would likely require the RF drive actuator to be significantly more cooperative than it has been. That's the wheel that died two years into Spirit's surface mission, and we tried to restart it during extrication. To our surprise, we've seen a little bit of life in it, but not so much that it can bury itself. So we probably couldn't do that even if we wanted to.

    Instead, we'll probably focus mostly on arcing Spirit around so that her own structure (camera mast and high-gain antenna) casts fewer shadows on the deck, then maximize our wheelie on one side and flatten it on the other side in such a way as to aim the solar panels more to the north. The first part of this (arcing around) is what we'd be doing for extrication anyway, and the second part might reduce our extrication chances slightly but not too much. Only then, if our northerly tilt is still insufficient and we think we can materially improve it, will we take actions that could severely reduce the odds of eventual extrication. But it's not likely to come to that, if only because there's not a whole lot more we could do, period.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.