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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record 61

s31523 writes "The Mars rover Opportunity has beaten the original record of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of Mars, originally set by the Viking 1 Lander. While the Spirit rover has been on the surface longer than the Opportunity by three weeks, it has been out of communication since March 22. If Spirit comes back online, it will attain the new Martian surface longevity record. This feat, right on the heels of another longevity feat (Voyager 2 and twin on the verge of entering interstellar space and still kicking) is healing some of NASA's past black eyes. It is quite remarkable given original spec of 90 days for the mission. With the passing of the solstice, warmer temperatures and more sun will likely mean the rover will continue on."
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Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record

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  • Go technology go! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JDSalinger ( 911918 ) * on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:44PM (#32297646)
    Feats like the Mars Rovers show us that our space-engineering prowess is not only continuing to mature, but indeed getting quite robust. From this one mission alone, how much have we learned about vehicle design for dealing with the Martian environment?

    And with yesterday's announcement of the creation of synthetic life, we are obviously on the edge of new breath-taking scientific ability. When will we be able to start creating custom bacteria to begin terra-forming mars? I know there is no way to predict the future, but the potential for change in our life-times is mind-blowing. As an anxious futurist, all I can say is "Go technology go!"
  • by PmanAce ( 1679902 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:44PM (#32297652) Homepage
    Live long and prosper.
  • This feat ... is healing some of NASA's past black eyes. It is quite remarkable given original spec of 90 days for the mission.

    Until some congressional asshat takes a look and argues "NASA builds things to last 25 times longer than specified. Ergo they are spending too much and their budget is 25 times higher than it should be."

  • by CraftyJack ( 1031736 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:22PM (#32298256)
    Stop it. It's OK to have a story about the MER mission without a link to xkcd#695.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:29PM (#32298350) Journal

    Human beings are not connected by a hive mind. Every one of them has to be told something individually. Even in a broadcast situation, you have to put out enough photons and phonons in enough directions to get the message to all the ears. And anyone who isn't in the room when you do it will cause you or someone else (or a webserver) to repeat the message to them personally.

    There. All better. Now go play.

  • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:34PM (#32298422)
    Ah, just as i suspected, the age old 'they failed, it was over engineered, it should have only lasted 95 days, blah blah blah' shtick.
    For the umpteenth time, *it was deliberate* they knew they could not get approval for the budget for a rover designed to last years and years, because of the long standing 'what if it breaks early? then the money is wasted right?' attitude.
    NASA knew what it would cost to build a decent rover, so they pitched it at 90 days, that way if it flakes out, it does not look like a huge failure.
    They build an excellent rover on (what is thought to be) a 90 day rover budget, send it up, and 95 days later, they can say 'look! this 90 day rover we made is doing great! it well outlasted our expectations! its way cheeper for us to keep driving it around than to build a new one and send it, can we get a little more funding?' I'm confident NASA knew full well what it was doing when it built and sent these rovers. (They probably even had at least rough outlines of things to do with them in the event of an extended project life.)
  • Scotty's Rule (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:43PM (#32298582)

    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Look, Mr. Scott, I'd love to explain everything to you. But the captain wants this spectrographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
    Scotty: [thinks about it some time] You mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Yeah. Well, I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.
    Scotty: How long would it really take?
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: [annoyed] An hour!
    Scotty: [looks unbelieving] Oh. You didn't tell him how long it would REALLY take, did you?
    Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Of course I did.
    Scotty: Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @05:18PM (#32299190) Homepage

    Haha, yeah you're so right, except for how you're totally wrong.

    90 days never had anything to do with how long the rover's parts would last. Not a single damned thing. No engineer ever said "I can only guarantee this part will last for 90 days" or anything like it.

    90 days was how long they thought it would be until the solar panels were too coved in dust for the rover to function. When the Martian wind turned out to be strong enough to clear the panels, NASA issued a press release and said "We were wrong; yay!" and the mission continued.

    And not knowing what the environment on Mars was like is exactly why there was never any Scotty-esque sandbagging, and instead the rovers were simply designed as robustly as possible, with a hypothetical lifespan of many years, simply to ensure they worked at all.

  • Re:JPL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:25PM (#32301250) Journal

    This success is due to Nasa's JPL or Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The successes they have had over the past decade are astounding. I see this as more proof that remote missions are more practical in the short term as opposed to manned missions. Just give JPL some more money and let them do their thing. These are the guys that will discover what we need to know, so as to make manned spaceflight practical.

    It's also worth noting that JPL is NASA's only FederallyFunded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) [], a type of organization which is quite a bit more flexible and competitive than the typical NASA Center. The Aldridge Commission [] from 2004 suggested that NASA restructure and turn all of its centers into FFRDCs, but this proposal was quickly killed in Congress as it's much more difficult for pork to be guaranteed for FFRDCs: []

    (b) NASA Centers. A second cluster of organizational tasks is to ensure that NASA's ten Centers
    and their related field facilities are deployed appropriately in supporting the exploration vision.
    Properly engaged, these facilities and their workforce provide indispensable resources and talent.
    Centers are also powerful economic engines at the state and local level that should help meet mission
    objectives and help grow a robust space industry.
    As currently organized, NASA's Centers are not optimally configured to carry out the nation's space
    exploration vision. They have Apollo-era infrastructure that needs substantial modernization. They
    lack institutional incentives that continuously align performance with the vision's need. Personnel
    practices have too often ossified, placing insufficient priority on innovation, professional growth,
    and managerial mobility. In some instances, they support duplicative capabilities that unnecessarily
    raise NASA's cost to the taxpayers. The Centers, as with the rest of NASA, must also contend
    with the reality that a large portion of the workforce is now or will soon be eligible for retirement.
    In short, the Centers must be renewed, empowered, focused, and more effectively leveraged in support
    of future space exploration and scientific discovery.
    The Commission proposes a new model for the NASA Centers. We feel that NASA should transition
    its Centers through an open, competitive process, to become Federally Funded Research and
    Development Centers (FFRDCs).
    FFRDCs provide a tested, proven management structure in which many of the federal government's
    most successful and innovative research, laboratory, technical support, and engineering institutions
    thrive. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is currently so configured, as are the Department of Energy's/QT

  • by Morty ( 32057 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:27PM (#32302332) Journal

    In general, NASA builds most spacecraft to considerably higher spec than required to perform the primary mission. This is a basic engineering principle called safety margin. If you calculate that a bridge needs to handle a load of X, then you build it to actually handle 3X.

    Spacecraft that complete their primary missions become eligible to do extended mission, usually at a reduced budget. Most spacecraft that survive their primary mission do end up going into extended mission. The primary mission is the set of scientific observations that spacecraft are funded to do. The extended mission is a collection of observations that we do given that we are already "there".

    This might seem odd, but actually makes a lot of sense. A lot of the mission cost is up-front cost -- designing instruments, launch vehicle, ground systems, calibration, systems integration, etc. So build the actual spacecraft a whole lot better than spec to make sure all those other costs don't get wasted if something unexpected occurs. Then, after the primary mission, you find yourself with an incredibly expensive asset uniquely placed to do scientific observations, which has just proven itself capable of providing lots of scientific data -- so do you shut it down, or keep pulling value out of it as long as you can?

    Disclaimer: I speak for myself, not my employer or work site.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan