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Mars Robotics Space Science

Mars Rover Opportunity Surpasses 30km Driving 86

Phoghat sends this quote from Universe Today: "With her most recent drive of 482 feet on June 1, 2011 (Sol 2614), NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover has zoomed past the unimaginable 30 kilometer mark in total odometry since safely landing on Mars nearly seven and one half years ago on Jan 24, 2004. That's 50 times beyond the roughly quarter-mile of roving distance initially foreseen. And Opportunity is still going strong, in good health and has abundant solar power as she continues driving on her ambitious overland trek across the martian plains of Meridiani Planum. She is heading to the giant Endeavour crater, some 22 km in diameter."
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Mars Rover Opportunity Surpasses 30km Driving

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @03:16PM (#36337588) Homepage

    Except they never said six months. They said three months, insisted the solar panels would be too covered by dust to get enough power after that, and refused to consider any sort of cleaning system. Even when NASA gets something right, they get it completely wrong.

    I see that you've been to Mars and understand the physics of dust in an alien atmosphere .... Oh, right. Anyhow, that isn't the issue at all. It's funding. Every NASA project is money constrained, so managers and boosters have all manner of strategems to make the most out of the system. Funding ground operations for 90 days is easier than funding ground observations for several years. Having a scientific package that meets it's goals in 90 days (and then goes ever onward) is much better than coming up with a 5 year plan and have some critical widget fail in three.

    I really don't understand why everyone here is making such an issue of this. It's rocket science - it's an experiment. Sometimes experiments work, sometime they don't. Yes the lay press is all gaga about it but that's because the lay press has all of the intellect and introspective capabilities of a paramecium. It's working. It's making incredible scientific progress on the cheap. We should really be harping this aspect of the mission, not the warranty.

    Slightly off topic. The Atlantic has a slide show on 11 things that Americans bizarrely get wrong about America [theatlantic.com]. It doesn't mention NASA but does mention that a significant number of Americans think that PBS funding and foreign aid constitute a significant amount of the US budget (actual values are less than 1% in both cases). There is this meme that the American government does nothing good and spends too much doing it. While there is some truth to that, a more important lesson is that the US government does lots of good things for not very much money. And this is one of those times.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday June 04, 2011 @04:08PM (#36337824) Homepage Journal

    Well, yeah. Can you imagine the response they'd have got if they'd asked for 7 years of funding? We'd still be waiting for the Rovers to be launched. They gamed the system because that's the only way you can make it work. Which is stupid because it's now impossible to truly evaluate a damn thing in high-end science, which means projects are not being funded according to their potential scientific value but according to how good the top brass are at out-politicking the politicians.

    In order to get a proper, rational perspective on big-ticket science projects, Congress (and all other governments) have to recognize the value of risk and the importance of investing. It has to be possible for NASA to create a project - be it to go to the moon, launch robots to Mars, or sent probes to Pluto - that will take two or even three decades to run to completion AND be 100% guaranteed that it will be 100% funded from day one to completion.

    At present, the only way that this works is by setting the original project so short that "completion" is damn-near inevitable and there's enough PR involved to make the actual work (via a follow-up) equally damn-near inevitable. That is NOT competent management, that's fraud by Congress (who deceive the public into thinking they're funding science) and fraud by NASA (who deceive Congress into thinking they're funding a PR stunt not science).

    Congress HAS to fund NASA properly. A 5x-10x increase in budget would be a good start. Congress ALSO has to partially devolve NASA into a quango - neither the President nor Congress should have any power to hire or fire anyone at NASA, nor should they have any say over what projects NASA is involved in. There should be a charter (ie: a contract with the President) that states what the overall objectives should be over the lifetime of the charter, to which NASA can be held legally liable if they don't fulfull their side, and which states Congress' obligations in return, to which they also can be held legally liable.

    One of the benefits of a quango type setup is that NASA currently can't own anything, it is currently obliged to choose a COTS solution even if they already have a solution (which would be GOTS) that's both cheaper and better, and it's required to opt for what is cheaper even if it is inferior, all because of government spending rules. If it were semi-private, government spending rules don't apply and government ownership rules don't apply. The problem with a fully private NASA is that it couldn't be government-funded at all, it has to be answerable to shareholders rather than independently-monitored objectives, and space research is expensive with little return on any predictable timeframe (if, indeed, there's any return at all). If it were semi-public, none of these limitations of private corporations would apply.

    Many of the fiascos within the US government are as a result of trying NOT to use quangos but to have a hard division between the public and private sectors, with incredibly unhealthy ties and obligations between them, deception run rampant (as noted earlier), massive uncertainty and no coherent strategy. This might be highly desirable to those who hate the idea of "big government", but it is highly undesirable to anyone who likes "big science".

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato