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Mars Space Science

Mars Rover Begins "Whole New Mission" 93

sighted writes "NASA reports that the seemingly-unstoppable robotic geologist Opportunity is finding things at Endeavour crater that it has never seen before, adding new life to a mission that has already been epic. Observations 'suggest that rock exposures on Endeavour's rim date from early in Martian history and include clay minerals that form in less-acidic wet conditions, possibly more favorable for life.' In a teleconference today, one mission scientist compared this new phase of exploration to a 'whole new mission.'"
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Mars Rover Begins "Whole New Mission"

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  • by thestudio_bob ( 894258 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:16PM (#37281166)

    I'm still thoroughly amazed at what this little machine has accomplished. The engineers deserve a big kudos as well.

  • XKCD Spirit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

  • Just gotta say (Score:5, Insightful)

    by guspasho ( 941623 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:28PM (#37281224)

    I wish that everyone who complained about how much money NASA "wastes" remembers just how many wildly successful programs like this one that it's accomplished. They've extended this mission something like half a dozen times. It's been on Mars for eight freaking years and it's still going!

    • I wish that everyone who complained about how much money NASA "wastes"

      We don't complain about the money they invest in things like this, we complain about the money they waste on (eg.) manned space stations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:28PM (#37281226)

    its still working cause its in a martian vr lab being fed fake data . MEANWHILE the invasion fleet nears completion .......

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:33PM (#37281250) Homepage

    Unfortunately Opportunity is not well-equipped for actually checking for life and so even if it does encounter life (which is unlikely) we'd have at best circumstantial evidence for it. The Viking tests of Martian soil [] didn't seem to give any signs of life but they did result in chemistry which we still don't fully understand what was happening. This in general makes further tests for life to be difficult since we don't fully understand the non-organic behavior (although one thing that Viking found was a lot less organic material than was expected. That's still not fully understood.).

    The follow-up to Opportunity is going to be the Curiosity rover. Curiosity is about the size of a large car and will have a lot of different equipment. That should be launched by the end of this year. If Curiosity lands successfully (it is much larger than other things we've tried to land on Mars before and there's some new tech in the landing method) it will blow Opportunity and Spirit away in terms of the number of experiments it can do and a lot of other things. For example, Curiosity can simply move a lot faster than any other rover we have put on Mars. This means that when it is in a less interesting spot it will be able to go somewhere more interesting in days or hours rather than in weeks or months.

    • I really hope for the best, but that should read "In the unlikely event that Curiosity lands successfully ...". Have you seen the concept videos? []
      • I watched it and , , I mean what could go wrong?

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )
        That's not entirely unlike Mars 3*, Viking, or Phoenix landing sequences; and they made it (*through the landing). The only major difference being "just" in using the rover itself as the landing gear of sorts, and decoupling the landing rocket from it; to save mass and minimise loads, I guess.
    • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @08:43PM (#37281722)

      I was part of Viking, and it is not correct to say that "Viking tests of Martian soil didn't seem to give any signs of life." The protocols and expected results were published before the mission, and all 6 (3 tests each on 2 spacecraft) passed at the one bit level (i.e., some of the details were not what was expected, but at the "we do X and Y happens" level, they all passed). What didn't "pass" was the mass spectrometer, which didn't reveal any organics.

      Funny thing was, the mass spec was listed as one of the tests of life before the mission.

      Now, they think that perchlorates may have removed all of the organics when the samples were heated for the mass spec. Oh well.

    • by Ga_101 ( 755815 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @08:56PM (#37281780)
      Which makes it all the greater same that the Beagle 2 did not land. We need a robotic chemist up there.
      While the two NASA rovers have done great work, they are very specialised as robotic geologists. This is great if you wanted pretty pictures of rocks, but does leave you stuffed if you want hard data on potential organic molecules.
      For it's many, many flaws, the Beagle 2 did manage to pack in a lot of science (indeed it would have provided much more interesting results IMHO) into a very small space on a shoe string. I can't help but think that if a little of the now obvious considerable redundancy (two rovers for crynout loud) built into the NASA mission had been given up for more science there would not be such a the need to send a rover the size of a car.
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        I would say we need a human chemist up there, but that is another argument.

        And, the usual typo

        Funny thing was, the mass spec was not listed as one of the tests of life before the mission.

        • by sznupi ( 719324 )
          Don't keep you hopes too high, even if we would send humans - out of the twelve people we sent to the Moon, only one was a geologist, during the very last mission; sad.

          Plus a sample return mission might just give the answers... (and ExoMars is supposed to cache samples; and, heck, scientific benefits from the Apollo were demonstrably roughly comparable to those from unmanned probes of the time)
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        The Beagle 2 was the Robert Falcon Scott of planetary missions. Gallant, but weak on the implementation.

        If I were running the NASA Mars program, we would have launched 2 more MERs every launch window or every other launch window and we would have 10 or so running around by now. Mars is a big planet, and there are lots of places to do useful science.

  • Next up... (Score:4, Funny)

    by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:37PM (#37281268)

    ...NASA suddenly announces they're entering the automobile business to maintain cash flow for their space exploration.

    Hell, I'd love a car that goes 8 years without maintenance. What are the lease terms on a $400M dollar vehicle anyways?

    • Hey, I love the Mars rovers, but if your car had a top speed of "The rovers have a top speed on flat hard ground of 50 mm/s (2 in/s). The average speed is 10 mm/s, because its hazard avoidance software causes it to stop every 10 seconds for 20 seconds to observe and understand the terrain into which it has driven." it would last for 8 yrs w/o maintenance as well. []

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Hell, I'd love a car that goes 8 years without maintenance.

      Ah yes, but you forgot about the 10/365.25/86400 OnStar support contract with guaranteed 1e4 response from the OFD (original fine designer) if the PhD answering on the first ring doesn't buzzer out a fix faster than God on Jeopardy [].

      Or maybe you're entitled to the freebie after gifting the JPL enough to found an entirely new campus.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @07:46PM (#37281316)
    ~Translation of Intercepted Broadcast from Blue Planet~
    ~Begin Translation~

    EPIC! NASA reports that the seemingly-unstoppable robotic geologist Opportunity is finding things at Endeavour crater that it has never seen before, adding new life to a mission that has already been epic.

    L'avery, Executive for the Program, announced thus:

    "This is like having a brand-new beachhead for our battle-hardened juggernaut of steel; a remarkable bonus that comes from being able to rove with imputiny and utterly dominate the Martian surface."

    Another Member of the Program was quoted as saying "This is different from any rock ever seen on Mars", describing the presence of numerous sac-like pockets of zinc and bromine mineralization associated with less-acidic and potentially gelatinous conditions.

    When a project manager reminded the NASA delegation that after having exceeded its design lifetime by a factor of 30, and suggested that "at any time, we could lose a critical component on an essential rover system, and the mission would be over", L'avery had the project manager's testicles crushed and used as robotic wheel lubricant.

    ~End Translation of Intercepted Broadcast~
    ~For Victory, For Mars, For K'Breel~

    • K'Breel seems to be using this invasion to get more and more power. In the early versions K'Breel was just the chief of the council. Then he started punishing Martian reporters who disagreed with his assessment of the danger. Now he's achieved such power and control that his name is directly put in the sign-off propaganda chant at the end. It seems that Martians really are just like Earthlings.
    • I look forward to seeing "The collected and annotated sayings of K'Breel" in the bookstore someday. I hope there is an Irulan clone up there taking notes.

  • Keep on struggling Opportunity. We'll bring you home soon. We promise. Just a little longer. [] (Spirit rover)

  • Maybe they can send it over to dust off the solar panels of "Spirit" and winch it outta the dust it is stuck in.

    But then again, by the time it gets there "Spirit" will probably have been stolen by metal thieves and sold to the Jawa.

  • Seems to me that work contracted for government departments never ends.

  • I know that many of the places named come from Austrailia, but some us of should laugh when we hear Botany Bay. I instantly thought of Chekov in Star Trek II. Interesting note that even in Austrailia, Botany Bay was a penal colony (what wasn't). It just makes the movie funnier.
  • I'd be a bit nervous about approaching a crater with the word "End" in it.

  • "Mars rover Opportunity finds new life in epic mission!"
  • When I read things like this, I wonder if we should send similar rovers to places like NYC and London -- I know I'd read their reports on attempts to discover "life," and the oddities they encounter.
  • Seven of the nine major planets either have at least one probe working there or in transit to it. Plus a couple in the Asteroid belt. Next week the Grail gravity probe goes to the Moon. And the long-delayed Curiosity Mars Science Lander launches at Thanksgiving.

    The future is less bright. The Hubble replacement Webb telescope is three times is original price, five years late and all but dead in the appropriations committee. Te decadonal report has selected probes for the rest of the 2010s, but none h

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