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Mars NASA Space Science

Final Attempts To Contact Mars Spirit Rover Fail 95

dotancohen writes "After nearly a year of trying to reestablish communications with the Mars Spirit rover, NASA has decided to suspend efforts. Communications channels used to contact the vehicle (redesignated from "rover" to "spot" when it got stuck in a sand trap) will be used to develop a communications base with the next Mars rover: the ambitious Mars Science Laboratory."
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Final Attempts To Contact Mars Spirit Rover Fail

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  • On the upside (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonsterTrimble ( 1205334 ) <monstertrimble&hotmail,com> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:27AM (#36239346)
    They know EXACTLY where it is so when we finally get to Mars we can go get it.
  • Farewell (Score:3, Interesting)

    by matthew_t_west ( 800388 ) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:51AM (#36239658) Homepage Journal

    Farewell good rover. You did a great job and I look forward to you being in the Mars Smithsonian in a couple centuries.


  • Re:On the upside (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @12:31PM (#36240206)
    They know EXACTLY where it is so when we finally get to Mars we can go get it.

    The final launch of the Endeavour marks the beginning of the end for an era in exploration. And it's sad to see it ending. But the end of the Spirit rover marks something very, very different. And that's the end of the beginning.

    What we're seeing is a major technological transition. A new kind of hardware has emerged that's fundamentally superior to the old technology. It's analogous to stone being replaced by bronze. It's like clipper ships being replaced by steam, or battleships being replaced by carriers. It's like the typewriter being supplanted by the PC. And it's thrilling and deeply disturbing at the same time, because this time around, the hardware upgrade is personal. Very, very personal. Because the outmoded hardware that's being replaced is us.

    The era of manned exploration of the cosmos is coming to an end, and the era of unmanned exploration is beginning in a serious way. Neil Armstrong is the old face of space exploration; Spirit is the new face. We'll get to Mars eventually but when we do it will be thoroughly mapped and analyzed and studied by robots. It won't fundamentally be exploration, it will be more like tourism. People talk about the shortcomings of robotic exploration, and how humans are more adaptible and versatile. Maybe that's true, if you ignore the incredible logistic hurdles required to support fragile flesh-and-bone hardware on a hostile planet. And maybe it's true that human hands are still better than metal manipulators... but only for now. The reality is that by the time we overcome the technological hurdles required to put humans on Mars, the technology of robots will have advanced. And they'll be able to move, to work, to do science, and to explore far more effectively in those environments than we will ever be able to do.

    There's a visceral dislike to this, I know. It's hard to let go of the old idea of exploration, of putting human feet on an unexplored world. But I don't think we're really losing as much as some people fear. It may be unmanned exploration, but it is still human exploration. It's still humans envisioning the rockets, engineering the robots, writing up the software, somehow pulling off this amazing feat of exploration, and wondering at the results. At least, it is for now.

  • Re:Spirit did well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScottMaxwell ( 108831 ) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @01:16PM (#36240952) Homepage

    (Yeesh, let's try that again.)

    Here's a remix of that xkcd strip that the MER team liked better than the original: [].

    Goodbye, Spirit, love, and well done.

  • Re:On the upside (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @03:32PM (#36242836) Homepage Journal

    Good communications, regardless of whether it is from robots or humans, has always been the deciding factor between a success story and a disaster. The 9 mins, 30 secs delay to get from Mars to Earth and then the same in reverse means real-time assisntance is impossible. Having human assistants in orbit or on the ground reduces the delay to practically nothing. Those 19 minutes saved have the potential to salvage a mission.

    Further, most mission-killers are minor failures. A failed motor, a sand trap, an exhausted RTG, dead batteries or a blocked solar panel. A human could fix any of these. The human wouldn't be doing the grunt-work, the human would be enabling the robots to do the grunt-work in as safe and protected a manner as possible. Worker safety isn't just about avoiding lawsuits or being ethical, it's also about getting better-quality work in less time for less expense in the long run.

    Then there's the experiments themselves. A rover can't replace a damaged experiment module or upgrade a module with something more advanced later on. Humans can do that FOR a rover at much less cost and in far less time than building a new rover from scratch. There may also be experiments that you want to occasionally run that require more power than the rover's batteries can provide but where lugging around the extra batteries needed would be impractical. No problem. Humans go to the rover and plug in an external power supply.

    Human-assisted robots are, by far, the best option for exploration of these kinds of worlds.

    Humans in space are also good for deep-space probes. The Voyager and Pioneer probes, excellent demonstrations of success, had problems after launch. In one case, a radio antenna didn't unfurl properly. I seem to recall there was a glitch in an experiment in another. Absolutely nothing for a human in orbit to fix. The former problem caused slower transmission speeds to be used, again costing us valuable data. As successful as they were, they could have been twice that with human assistants.

    (Even The Doctor knows how valuable human assistants are. And that, surely, is the clincher.)

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?