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Mars Government NASA Space

NASA Panel Finds Fault WIth Curiosity Rover Project's Focus 51

The Curiosity Rover that's been exploring the surface of Mars for more than two years now has a lot of fans (and quite a few headlines here on Slashdot), but not everyone feels positively toward the project. Tech Times reports that NASA revealed on Wednesday that it has renewed the funding of seven ongoing planetary exploration missions but of these, the space agency's Planetary Mission Senior Review panel, which reviewed and rated these planetary missions, was particularly critical of the Curiosity, which also happens to be the newest and the second costliest of the seven missions. The panel is disappointed that given the capabilities of the Curiosity rover, the team behind it only intends to take and analyze eight samples in two years, which translates to two samples from each of the four units it will visit during its extended mission. The Curiosity is the only NASA tool with the capabilities to detect carbon, do in situ age analysis, and measure ionizing particle flux.
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NASA Panel Finds Fault WIth Curiosity Rover Project's Focus

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  • Focus (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @06:20PM (#47848625) Homepage Journal

    NASA Panel Finds Fault WIth Curiosity Rover Project's Focus

    This happened with Hubble too.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @07:03PM (#47848775) Journal

    I thought they haven't arrived at the primary target yet. Sampling secondary targets slows down progress toward the primary target.

    I can see rationale for "not dwelling" at secondary targets. If these secondary targets are somehow deemed primary or prime targets (not stated), that's a different matter, but doing so detracts from the original primary target.

    It seems somebody is using "bean counter" logic whereby you judge quantity instead of quality.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @07:29PM (#47848909) Journal

      By the way, here's a somewhat more detailed article:

      http://spaceflightnow.com/news... [spaceflightnow.com]

      It seems the complaining panel may be trying to "force science" when it's really an exploration or survey mission. Example:

      "The proposal lacked specific scientific questions to be answered, testable hypotheses, and proposed measurements and assessment of uncertainties and limitations," Neal wrote.

      You don't "prove hypotheses", you collect evidence first. If you find something really interesting, then either spend more time at that place, or drive back to it if oddities are found after-the-fact and are big enough to justify it.

      It seems they are asking for premature regimentation. You have to react to circumstances. Essentially, its mission plan should be "drive around and sniff at interesting or odd things".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Curiosity has spent two years on Mars taking samples and making surface measurements -- and guess what? It's nowhere near completing its actual primary science goal: getting to Mt. Sharp. The geologists are, pun completely intended, running this mission into the ground.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      It's nowhere near completing its actual primary science goal: getting to Mt. Sharp

      Part of the problem is that particular area of Mars is rough on the rover's wheels (different than seen by other probes), so they have to be more cautious than expected.

      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @11:23PM (#47849905) Journal

        For those who don't follow this stuff: the rover has tin-foil wheels, and they're getting chewed up fast (many holes and tears in them already). The problem is sharp rocks that are embedded firmly in the ground, or perhaps part of the bedrock like a'a lava - a geological feature that wasn't expected or designed for. The rover can handle sharp rocks in soil just fine, but now they're going really slowly trying to find a better path.

        • Tin foil wheels? Did they ever, I dunno, make one and test it?

          I wonder what the design spec was like. "Make a wheel out of some of the flimsiest stuff possible and make it travel over extremely aggressive terrain in an extreme environment" Sounds like a great plan. At least they didn't choose tissue paper -THAT might have been worse.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            As with anything on Slashdot that starts with armchair experts asking "didn't they think of X?", well, of course they thought of X. Weight of the probe is the primary cost of the mission - nothing's heavier than in must be.

            These wheels were tested extensively, and work just fine in normal rocky soil - they're more robust than car tires. But glue a spike to the ground pointing up and it goes right through the wheel. There was no reason to expect Martian Caltrops, but that's what was found: sharp spikes of

            • I've seen this kind of argument here on slashdot since Curiosity landed. Talking about the weight of wheels is a misdirection. This is about weight, but the crux of this issue is about priorities: choosing to load up the rover with more scientific instruments instead of making the rover more durable. In effect, the committee that designed Curiosity chose to subvert the primary mission (traveling to Mt. Sharp) before was even built by choosing short-term scientific goals over a long-term exploration ability.

              • by lgw ( 121541 )

                Well, to the engineers' defense, the wheels were designed to handle the terrain that was found by the previous 2 rovers. Going beyond that probably gets into internal NASA politics, but your claim wouldn't surprise me at all - sexy features seem to trump infrastructure in every field.

  • So which multinational conglomerate is making the over priced pork barrel replacement?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just a bunch of techs, engineers, and scientists at JPL, which is part of CalTech, and a few dozen instruments and stuff from other universities.

  • the team behind it only intends to take and analyze eight samples in two years, which translates to two samples from each of the four units it will visit during its extended mission.

    editing fail; I think they met eunuchs. maybe there aren't as many eunuchs on mars as NASA first expected.

  • Managers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Puls4r ( 724907 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @08:12PM (#47849123)
    Can we please retitle this story to "Armchair Quarterbacks Randomly Decide They Don't Like Curiosity"? Because, in all seriousness, do you think a that a bunch of rocket-scientists and engineers are like "nah.... let's just point the camera at clouds and do nothing with this huge multi-million dollar rover". Far more likely that the engineers behind the project are doing everything they physically can with curiosity, but this review panel doesn't like the reality of what can be done. I can think of a great Dilbert comic or two that cover this.
  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @08:35PM (#47849253) Journal

    dorks don't want anyone else to play with their expensive toys...that's one way to look at this...

    NASA is awesome...because they are the institution that goes to space...their **task** is awesome

    **execution** has always been an area for improvement...NASA can be awesome and still have major problems!!!

    it comes down to bean counters vs explorers...aka ***risk analysis***

    the prototypical example of this is the Mercury astronauts and their crusade to include the human in the mission

    the old saying goes "paralysis by analysis"

    however you contextualize the problem, the root cause is faulty risk assessment...the entire notion of risk assessment in project management has become a clusterfuck of cause/effect errors & voodoo quantification of non-quant factors

    NASA isn't alone in this, of course...**every beauracracy** tends to have these problems...

    i'm not anti-NASA...I'm pro human spaceflight and human space exploration...i love these rovers too...let's put them to work and not be afraid to break them!

    • "however you contextualize the problem, the root cause is faulty risk assessment...the entire notion of risk assessment in project management has become a clusterfuck of cause/effect errors & voodoo quantification of non-quant factors"

      Indeed!

      It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The biggest problem the scientific community has had is that the Rover does only science that has been done all before; It could easily be detecting life or past life or dead life from a thousand years ago.. but they refuse to do that sort of science even when they have outfitted the rover with the tools to do it, due in part to various political factions putting pressure on them NOT to do the science; Science is literately being censored and hats the most terrible thing.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Are you saying they are scared to detect life? That's a rather odd claim I hope would come with more evidence. And Curiosity is not designed to directly detect life anyhow. Even if they find life-like signs, most likely it would require a follow-up mission(s) to verify it really is life. Thus deflecting the life issue is built into the mission already by not having that ability to begin with.

      A more fitting question may be why we haven't sent a direct life-detecting mission since the mid 1970's. But that's

  • Thought it was about projector focus.

    Never mind.

  • by Squidlips ( 1206004 ) on Monday September 08, 2014 @08:55AM (#47851519)
    This seems like the manned spaceflight directorate (i.e the pork Directorate) whining about the science directorate (i.e. real science and exploration) because the planetary science guys are getting all the publicity and excitement while they cannot get anyone interested in their pork manned projects like the ISS, SLS, Orion, or their ludicrous asteroid capture missions.
  • by Shadowmist ( 57488 ) on Monday September 08, 2014 @10:24AM (#47852087)
    .... in that it's extended mission is coming before the primary mission. However if they don't do something about the wear and tear on the rover's tire treads, it may never get to the primary mission.

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