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Mars Rover's Epic Trek For the Crater Endeavor

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the endeavor-endeavor dept.

Mars 145

Smivs writes "The BBC reports that NASA is to send its Mars rover Opportunity on a two-year trek to try to reach a crater called Endeavour. The robot will have to move about 11km to get to its new target — a distance that would double what it has already achieved on the planet. Endeavour is much bigger than anything investigated to date, and will allow a broader range of rocks to be studied. Detailed satellite imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will help pick out the best route ahead; and new software recently uploaded to Opportunity will enable the rover to make its own decisions about how best to negotiate large rocks in its path. Opportunity has just emerged from the 800m-wide Victoria Crater. Endeavour, by comparison, is 22km across."

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11 km (5, Funny)

adpsimpson (956630) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118459)

That's about 11,000 inches, right? Shouldn't take that long.

Re:11 km (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25118473)

Nope. 11,000 meters.

Re:11 km (2, Funny)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118591)

or 32 microts

Re:11 km (4, Funny)

pzs (857406) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118737)

There should seriously be a moderation tag for "sarcasm impaired".

Re:11 km (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25118789)

There really should be a moderation tag for "most people aren't nearly as funny, or as obvious as they think they are".

Re:11 km (4, Insightful)

Gewalt (1200451) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118837)

There really should be a moderation tag for "most people aren't nearly as funny, or as obvious as they think they are".

No, it really was funny and obvious. You're just not nearly as sharp, or as bright as you think you are.

Re:11 km (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119627)

No, it really was funny and obvious.

Says who?

Re:11 km (1)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119777)

Those of us with a sense of humor.

Re:11 km (4, Insightful)

paniq (833972) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120301)

Those of us with an username.

Re:11 km (4, Insightful)

Comboman (895500) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119817)

There really should be a moderation tag for "most people aren't nearly as funny, or as obvious as they think they are".

Funny is admittedly somewhat subjective, but any Slashdot reader interested enough in Mars exploration to read this article would no doubt be familiar with the Mars Climate Orbiter [wikipedia.org] and the error involving conversion of metric units that caused its failure; so I would call the joke fairly obvious.

Re:11 km (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120423)

I'd forgotten about that, but there is another article on the front page about 'nano' football, where people are complaining about units - so I still found it funny :)

Re:11 km (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118845)

And a meter is a bit longer than a yard, so estimating, that would 1.10 yards per meter * 11,000 = 12,100 yards or about 435,600 ft. So for the GPs benefit, there are 12 inches in a yard that would be ~ 435,600 inches or so, a little less due to rounding errors. But that's about 40x GPs estimate. :-P

Re:11 km (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118857)

s/inches in a yard/inches in a foot

doh!

Re:11 km (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119717)

An inch is exactly 2.54 cm (by law, in the US). With that and a calculator, you can do any English to Metric (or Metric to English) length conversion exactly.

Re:11 km (2, Funny)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119171)

Nope. 11,000 metres

Re:11 km (1)

timbck2 (233967) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120587)

**whoosh**

Re:11 km (4, Funny)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118699)

It's 11 km om Mars, so we should use astronomical units: almost 360 femtoparsecs.

Re:11 km (2, Funny)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118727)

Parsecs are old hat. It's 36.8 microseconds (of light travel time).

Re:11 km (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118831)

Not quite. It's actually around 55 furlongs, or 2200 rods (give or take a fathom or two).

Oblig. Simpsons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25120887)

The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!

Re:11 km (2, Insightful)

arielCo (995647) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119049)

That's 100.248 football fields [google.com] in PopSci units :)

Re:11 km (1)

nocaster (784709) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119599)

How many Empire State buildings?

Re:11 km (1)

bjoeg (629707) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119131)

Narh more likely around 11,000 meters. So in 2 years they say. Hmm, with some minor calculations that would be some 63 centimeters (rounded) a day.

"Engage" as Capt. Picard would say

Re:11 km (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120095)

63 cm / day ?

11000 / 730 = 15 meters / day. As they say, that includes some sightseeing time, and a winter vacation or two.

By the way, so far this year, Spirit has gone 1/2 a meter (48 centimeters).

Re:11 km (4, Interesting)

SenseiLeNoir (699164) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121791)

I did smile at the joke, but I still have a lot of admiration for NASA. I am a brit, and yes I was disappointed when the Beagle 2 probe was lost.

However, I still remember as a kid, I used to be awed with NASA, and its space shuttle launches, etc. As a child it was what I associated America with: space, advancing to new frontiers, etc, and NASA usually was the center of my aspirations. I used to dream of being on a Shuttle, and often felt jealous (in a positive way) for what our friends across the pond was up to.

In recent years, and recent news, which unfortunately put the USA in a poor light amongst some, NASA with their exploits brought back some memories about why I aspired towards America; that "can do attitude".

Sure they have messed up, at times. but space exploration is like that. Their successes usually are just as great.

These rovers were built to run for 3 months. They are running for on their fifth year now. Absolutely amazing!

The official reason of how they underestimated the abilities for the wind to clean the sensors, may be correct, but in this day and age, where items are engineered to last their intended lifespan, whoever designed these things still didnt "cheap out" on the rest of the vehicle.

These are not cheap little radio controlled dune buggy models for use on earth, but self maintaining vehicles that for nearly 5 years have operated in a hostile, largely unknown environment with no physical attention!

So hats off to NASA and JPL. And god speed on the new mission. And thanks for giving this older man a thing something to smile about in these times of drab news.

Re:11 km (3, Funny)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 5 years ago | (#25122249)

It's an estimate right now. They're not sure where the Endeavor crater will actually be. Once Atlantis does the rescue mission Endeavor will be redirected to mars in order to create it's crater.

Amazing (5, Informative)

Amiralul (1164423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118507)

Godspeed, Opportunity!
Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

Re:Amazing (2, Informative)

Amiralul (1164423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118541)

Godspeed, Opportunity! Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

Oops, read that "4th year", my apologies.

Re:Amazing (1)

SenseiLeNoir (699164) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121969)

No you are correct, they have been up for over 4 and a half years, so they ARE in their fifth year :)

Re:Amazing (5, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118571)

Godspeed, Opportunity!

Remember that Opportunity and Spirit are on their 5th year on the Martian surface. Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!

I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual.

KIRK: Mr. Scott. Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?

SCOTTY: Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?

Re:Amazing (2, Informative)

mlush (620447) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119285)

So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!

I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual.

Its both as I understand it the big win was the martian wind kept the solar panels cleaner than expected, it was dust build up (and thus power loss) that was expected to kill the mssion

Re:Amazing (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119761)

What? Scotty was such a good engineer because he was kept free of dust by the wind?

Re:Amazing (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120567)

I have to wonder why they didn't consider building some sort of windshield wiper for the solar panels onto the machine? If they expected dust to kill the power efficiency, wouldn't an arm with a brush sweeping over the surface of the panels work to resolve that?

Re:Amazing (1)

cytg.net (912690) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120687)

omg .. i cannot believe they did not think of that. seriously. :-)

Re:Amazing (3, Insightful)

GeordieMac (1010817) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120897)

actually a better mechanism would be to use compressed atmosphere to blast the dust away. Wipers have more points of failure and would likely abrade the surface of the solar panels, permanently reducing the efficiency fo the cells.

Re:Amazing (1)

mlush (620447) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121091)

actually a better mechanism would be to use compressed atmosphere to blast the dust away. Wipers have more points of failure and would likely abrade the surface of the solar panels, permanently reducing the efficiency fo the cells.

Compressor + storage = weight + power drain

How about designing the panels to further exploit the natural wind? Either a wind powered brush (say a little flag on a wire that drags over the panel) or optimize the shape and surface finish to maximize the effect of the wind.

Re:Amazing (1)

ChrisA90278 (905188) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121599)

"So either the rovers are overachievers or we just set their goals WAY too low!
I guess they are taking a page from Scotty's manual."

No. What's happend is that they asked the engineers to design something that has a 99.99% chance of working for 90 days. They did that. But as a side effect the device has a 85% chance of lasting 180 days and a 70% chance of one year and 50% on two years and so on. My numbers are not right but you get the idea.

Re:Amazing (0, Offtopic)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119267)

Their mission were initially planned to last no more than 3 months. Bravo!

Martian hoopties!

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119411)

I agree with you on it is an amazing feat for them to have lasted this long my issue is with how old these robots are getting up there why risk a risky two year voyage over a distance of about 6.8 miles to get to a creator that is 13 Miles wide and will take another couple of years to explore and probably end up causing a catastrophic failure of Opportunity to me this is a complete miss use of the opportunity they have with a functioning robot up there yet the functionality they have built into these robots donâ(TM)t give them too many more things to-do but explore

Re:Amazing (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25121343)

I agree with you on it is an amazing feat for them to have lasted this long my issue is with how old these robots are getting up there why risk a risky two year voyage over a distance of about 6.8 miles to get to a creator that is 13 Miles wide and will take another couple of years to explore and probably end up causing a catastrophic failure of Opportunity to me this is a complete miss use of the opportunity they have with a functioning robot up there yet the functionality they have built into these robots donâ(TM)t give them too many more things to-do but explore
I also agree with you on this amazing feat for you to be able to have such an enourmous run on sentence with no punctuation whatsoever even though it seems like a risky voyage over all of those keystrokes just to get to the submit button to wait and see if your content got posted or if you got the slow down cowboy screen and then you have to wait for a while and just stare at the ceiling until you can submit again but back to the rovers I too hope they don't have a catastrophic failure when it goes to the new crater but hey what else can you do since it has explored everything else in the area that it is in and it might as well go someplace new to see something else because it isn't the destination but rather the journey

Re:Amazing (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121999)

They must expect to find something interesting there. Besides, the road to the crater will also have interesting things to study.

Re:Amazing (1)

ITJC68 (1370229) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120439)

This was the best investment NASA made. They should build more of these to put on the moon and Mars to do more exploring.

Let's hope the motors hold out. (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118545)

Opportunity saw its first electrical spike in one of its motors recently - the same problem that has basically crippled Spirit.

This was described (8 paragraphs down) in this press release [nasa.gov] . That's why they got out of Victoria Crater post haste.

Of course, the terrain in Meridiani Planum is much more navigable than Gustav Crater, so even if they do lose a motor, they may still be able to make progress.

Re:Let's hope the motors hold out. (4, Interesting)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119597)

This is a suicide mission, NASA wanted to shut down the rovers years ago, and the public outcry repeatedly stopped it. Now, if the rover goes on a 2 year drive and dies, what a poor little heroic guy, finally succumbed to the elements.
And NASA gets to free all the funds to build newer and bigger and better and ...
Don't forget, these are the guys that canceled the last Apollo missions for the fuel bill; they already had the rockets, trained astronauts and everything else in place.

Re:Let's hope the motors hold out. (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119865)

I distinctly remember Congress canceling the last Apollo mission (Apollo 18), by not giving NASA the money. This was indeed deep in the planning stages, intended for some volcanic domes near the Marius crater IIRC.

Re:Let's hope the motors hold out. (3, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120143)

Oh, and given that there was never any plans to get the rovers back, this was always a "suicide" mission.

But you are right, JPL will keep running these until they physically fail.

Re:Let's hope the motors hold out. (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120355)

Don't forget, these are the guys that canceled the last Apollo missions for the fuel bill; they already had the rockets, trained astronauts and everything else in place.

And the money to pay the army that would be needed to build and run the missions. Ending Saturn was a good move. The rocket was too expensive. Replacing it with the Space Shuttle though was one of the worst mistakes NASA ever did.

Opportunity proves it: (2, Funny)

paniq (833972) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118575)

studying ... rocks!

ok, maybe only studying ... rocks ... rocks.

If you get an ... opportunity.

Allright I stop, I'm killing myself.

Re:Opportunity proves it: (5, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118615)

studying ... rocks!

ok, maybe only studying ... rocks ... rocks.

If you get an ... opportunity.

Allright I stop, I'm killing myself.

That's the Spirit

Re:Opportunity proves it: (3, Funny)

strabes (1075839) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118733)

I think this humor Endeavour has been unsuccessful.

Re:Opportunity proves it: (4, Funny)

paniq (833972) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118931)

We're just cratering to our audience. :/

Re:Opportunity proves it: (3, Funny)

NightRain (144349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119067)

Make the pain stop!

Re:Opportunity proves it: (2, Funny)

strabes (1075839) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120463)

I have to admit, the Opportunity was fairly large.

Sweet.... (1)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118713)

Wasn't Opporunity half-designed by kids as well? Props to NASA for getting our money's worth out of this thing. Talk about the little engine that could.

A case for manned exploration (3, Insightful)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118757)

A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle. And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments. And let's not forget that in those 2 years, the rover has a very high likelihood to break down.

So while human exploration of Mars may be expensive, it is probably much cheaper when comparing results.

I know the /. crowd has a strong, somewhat irrational animosity towards manned exploration. So I'll burn some karma, big deal :o)

Re:A case for manned exploration (5, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118923)

irrational animosity towards manned exploration

Leaving aside - for now - the part where a human mission to Mars is almost certainly a suicide mission, if you want to make the case that other people are irrational your best bet is probably to present your own rational ideas for a fully-costed human mission, including all the associated life-support requirements both in transit and once on the surface.

Then we can compare your ideas against the cost of the Spirit and Opportunity missions

Re:A case for manned exploration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119099)

Look up The Case for Mars, (Zubrin, 1996)

There's a rational, plausible, justified, budgeted non-suicidal mars mission design. And it was written 12 years ago.

It'll cost more than a rover (duh?) - but as mentioned before - humans are capable of so much more, along with the countless benefits of an expanded space program.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

Cormacus (976625) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119719)

Honestly, I'm rooting for China's space program at the moment. Perhaps if they get far enough along to contemplate a base on the moon / a manned mission to Mars, then the politicians will stop contemplating their @pet_peeves_vs_politicians long enough to fund our side of the "race."

Along the same lines (but completely off topic), why does everything have to be a "war" or a "race?" Why can't it be the "Effort to stop people from smoking so much pot that they sleep all day like my college roomate?" Or how about the "The unhurried trip to Mars because it would be darn cool to get there?"

Re:A case for manned exploration (2, Interesting)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119849)

I don't care to read the book, but I will give you rational, plausible, budgeted and non-suicidal. "Justified"...now that is where our parlay will break down. Justified, like art, is in the eye of the beholder and often requires some selling to get the justificatee to agree (yes, I just made up that word). One way of thinking of it is that justification isn't a property of an object, but is something that is done to it.

The only justification I've seen is an effort for Mars missions is to prove that life once existed there. When I was young, the hope was that we'd find some weird alien creepy-crawlies scurrying about. Now the hope is that there is some water that a microscopic lifeform might have once inhabited. The basis for the need of effort is to prove that life can autogenerate anywhere. You may not believe it, but the vast majority of the people who pay taxes respond to this sales job with a great big "Who the f&&k cares?!"

You and I may believe the expense of a manned mission is justified, but we are woefully/painfully outnumbered. That leaves us with one of two options. Sell the manned missions as an escape route from a dying Earth. That puts us in the "OH, NOZ!! We're all gonna' die!" alarmist category. Unless we can point out a REAL viable threat to the Earth, we will soon be marginalized. "There is a 1 in 8 billion chance of a catastrophic asteroid impacting the Earth within the next 1000 years" does not cross the 'valid' hurdle in mind of most people.

The second option is to send cheap probes. People like them because of the gee-whiz features, and they're not expensive enough to cause economic pain. They can also see useful applications for much of the technology involved. The science is slow, but it is progressing. The things we learn from the probes will make a manned mission safer and cheaper, since some possible eventualities will be eliminated and not need to be planned/prepared for.

In short, a manned mission has not been justified, evidenced by the complete lack of support for it. Just look at the tepid response Bush's Mars plan garnered. And I believe half of the positive response was little more than nostalgia for the Space Race heyday. Bush didn't justify the need to expend the resources necessary, and neither has anyone else.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120521)

The only justification I've seen is an effort for Mars missions is to prove that life once existed there. When I was young, the hope was that we'd find some weird alien creepy-crawlies scurrying about. Now the hope is that there is some water that a microscopic lifeform might have once inhabited. The basis for the need of effort is to prove that life can autogenerate anywhere. You may not believe it, but the vast majority of the people who pay taxes respond to this sales job with a great big "Who the f&&k cares?!" You and I may believe the expense of a manned mission is justified, but we are woefully/painfully outnumbered. That leaves us with one of two options. Sell the manned missions as an escape route from a dying Earth. That puts us in the "OH, NOZ!! We're all gonna' die!" alarmist category. Unless we can point out a REAL viable threat to the Earth, we will soon be marginalized. "There is a 1 in 8 billion chance of a catastrophic asteroid impacting the Earth within the next 1000 years" does not cross the 'valid' hurdle in mind of most people.

How about a 1 in 20 chance of a nuclear war in the next ten years? Not that I care or anything.

If you've paid any attention to politics, you would know that it doesn't require anything like a majority to spend public funds. My take is that enough people care that it will eventually happen once the price tag gets low enough. At the very worst, it'll happen because somebody is making money on Mars, and you can't tax that, if you're not there.

Re:A case for manned exploration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119699)

A lot of manned missions to outer space could be classified as a âoeSuicide Missionâ the likely hood of survival is always fairly low given all the unknowns. In saying that the people that would be selected to go to mars would go knowing that they have less than a 1 percent chance of survival just like the moon mission yet in the name a science and fame and patriotism. I bet if there was a sign up list tomorrow people would still sign up including me.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119365)

It does? I've observed quite the opposite: most of Slashdot is very gung-ho about meaningful manned exploration. The only animosity I've seen regularly expressed is towards the Shuttle and ISS.

Re:A case for manned exploration (5, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119397)

A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle. And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments. And let's not forget that in those 2 years, the rover has a very high likelihood to break down.

Well, we'd never have been able to put people there nearly as cheaply, or for nearly as long. We haven't solved the problems of getting people in space for long enough for the journey, keeping them alive, feeding them, and having them inhabit the surface of a strange planet without any real support.

The rovers have been absolute bargain in terms of the cost for the science achieved. And, they give us a lot of the basic information we need to know if we're ever going to put humans there. The value vs cost of the these rovers is not something you can characterize as expensive for what we get -- the initial mission was, what $300 million or so?

I think until we can overcome an incredible amount of technical hurdles, the rovers are still a good idea. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to develop some of the stuff we'll need for manned missions. Likely we'll need to work on some closer missions and return to the moon before we try to get to Mars in my opinion -- that'll at least let us try to sort out the really big challenges.

Cheers

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

ChrisA90278 (905188) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121745)

You can argue that people could have done the job better but that is like saying I could get to work fater in a flying car or a jet pack. The problemm is that we simply don't have the means to send people to mars. Given the current state of the art they'd likey never survive the trip.

AN then you have the little problem of getting off of Mars. What you need is a rocket on Mars that can lift off and travel to Earth. Here on Earth we have huge infrastucture in place to launch rockets, we'd have to fly a launch system to mars.

There is much work to be done before we can even think about sending people. Just a simple thing like radiation shielding. How would you do that? Shielding requires mass

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119437)

Try breathing the martin atmosphere and weighing only a few dozen kgs and eat nothing but sunsine below zero. We haven't even started with how you got there.

Soft humans are not as well adapted to space and mars as you seem to think.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120297)

even if he managed earth walking speeds of 4kmph it would take him 2.7 hours to get there, so he would have under 4 hours to do his stuff before he had to turn around and go home before his oxygen ran out. If he had a vehicle to ride there in, why not just turn that into a big rover instead?

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120573)

Because a driver in the cab can control a rover better than a driver on Earth. A several minute round trip is a long time when you're driving.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120697)

If a bunch of random nerds in the DARPA challenge can make a car drive itself so can NASA.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

Dannkape (1195229) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121099)

...which is why the rovers already there can do quite a bit of steering themselves, and I guess they would stop and wait for instructions if they encountered anything too complicated.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120875)

And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments.

Yeah, except that you could send around 2500 rowers to mars for the price of a human mars misson. Have some doubt that a small human team can perform better then those.

Re:A case for manned exploration (2, Insightful)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121813)

A human would take no more than a few hours to get there, on foot, much less with some vehicle.

You've inadvertently demonstrated the stupidity of your own argument there. If the point is to "travel faster" and vehicles travel faster then humans, why not send a vehicle? And if we have the vehicle, what's the human for? After all, it's not the 1960s. Vehicles don't need humans to steer them.

And would be able to do much more and diverse probings and experiments.

Rubbish. The fact of the matter is, we would get better quality results form observing mars from orbit then from a human on the ground. Any human observation/probing/experiments on Mars will be entirely reliant on instruments to do the measuring, cameras to record, etc. If we are sending the instruments anyway, what do we need the human there for? After all, it's not the 1960s. Instruments no longer require us to be physically present to read them.

And let's not forget that in those 2 years, the rover has a very high likelihood to break down.

So - what? S+O demonstrates clearly that we can engineer well enough to reliably meet the mission objectives - Huygens demonstrates that with a backup system, we can gather results of enormous value even in the event of partial failure.

So while human exploration of Mars may be expensive, it is probably much cheaper when comparing results.

Experience says otherwise. Human activities in space have been expensive boondoggles of little or no scientific value. Robotic missions in space - Galileo, Hubble, Spirit+Opportunity, Voyagers, Cassini/Huygens, beautiful and exciting discoveries that push the boundaries of our experience. Hardly a days passes where one of these missions doesn't give us pause. It's irrational to think we need to physically go ourselves. It's not the 1960s anymore.

Re:A case for manned exploration (1)

jackchance (947926) | more than 5 years ago | (#25122251)

are you joking?
either you are joking or a moron.

Cleaning the solar cells? (1)

h4x354x0r (1367733) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118919)

Don't they have a problem with dust collecting on the solar cells? Don't they wish they would have thought of a way to keep them really clean?

Re:Cleaning the solar cells? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119327)

They were only supposed to last six months, so dust shouldn't have been a problem. They're in the 5th year. My guess is that future robots may have blowers or wipers or something to keep cells clean.

Re:Cleaning the solar cells? (2, Informative)

bishop32x (691667) | more than 5 years ago | (#25122047)

NASA has been spending quite a bit of money recently on dust issues. Apparently in low-g situations dust stays suspended in the air for quite some time and consequently develops an static charge. NASA currently has a design for an electromagnetic dust wiper which is basically a array of wires under a surface (like a solar panel) which are electrified in sequence to push the dust around.

There are some issues with power draw and scalability, but my guess is that they will be using some sort of electro-magnetic device to remove dust in upcoming missions.

Re:Cleaning the solar cells? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119963)

It turns out that the frequent dust devils have been keeping the solar cells (for Opportunity, not so much for Spirit) pretty clean and have been the single most important factor enabling these very long missions.

Hey, that's METRIC! (1)

mandark1967 (630856) | more than 5 years ago | (#25118951)

Since the standard conversion formula is to (X * 2) +30 all you have to do is (X / 2) -30 for US measurements.

That equals -24.5 so they've already been there and passed it!

Must've been a guy controlling the rover...we never ask directions.

Re:Hey, that's METRIC! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119265)

What the hell are you talking about? (x*2)+30?

Re:Hey, that's METRIC! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119471)

(x*2)+30 is an approximate conversion for degrees C to degrees F.
Now if the parents would just show us how to convert meters to degrees C, and we'll know exactly how many degress F we have to travel!

Re:Hey, that's METRIC! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119967)

Ah... then the reverse approximation is wrong.

Try these instead:
F ~= (C*2)+30
C ~= (F-30)/2

I think the answer is 451 F

Re:Hey, that's METRIC! (1)

mandark1967 (630856) | more than 5 years ago | (#25122415)

whoosh...

So much for the ocscure reference to Bob & Doug MacKenzie and the Great White North...

Re:Hey, that's METRIC! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25121861)

it's actually easy to do it the correct way. It's (C*1.8)+32=F. 1.8 is the same as 9/5. So multiply the C by 9 (relatively easy in your head) then divide by five. Now add 32, tada. :) 40 deg C = 40*9 = 360 360/5 = 72 + 32 = 104. All in my head! Now let's go back. 100* F = 100-32 = 68 * 5 = 340 / 9 = 37 7/9.

Another way:

C*1.8 = (C*2)-(C*.2)

So 78* C = 156 - 15.6 = 140.4 + 32 = 172.4* F

Going back with this way is harder, so you can just do it the other way, or figure out some simple way to conceptualize 5/9...

Mars Trek (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119373)

Mars: the newest frontier.
These are the voyages of the rover Opportunity.
Its two-year mission: to explore strange new craters; to seek out new life and new land formations;
to boldly go where no robot has gone before!

More than a suggestion (0, Flamebait)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119465)

I know that NASA are a bunch of good people, and I know that there are very good reasons for why they do things the way they do.
But PLEASE!!! 2 years to go 11 km? I know that the Rover will stop every now and then to check out soil samples etc, but 2 years???
I'm thinking of a radio controlled 4wd you can get from a serious hobby shop that'll do at least 1km between charges!
I suppose what I'm saying is that future rovers should be designed for as many possible contingencies (like long distant travel for example). Maybe they could even take pics of Martian landscapes set for human vision too.
That would be nice.

Re:More than a suggestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25119819)

They have to drive slowly to not whip up dust that could damage the motor and to avoid driving into holes.

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

Kandenshi (832555) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119891)

I suppose what I'm saying is that future rovers should be designed for as many possible contingencies

If you want a general purpose tool that can adapt to many scenario, send a human. (Also, go to the bank, you're going to need to make a biiiiiig withdrawl)

If you want to do science on a budget(which NASA has to do since it gets diddly squat for funding compared to certain other institutions) then you simply plan out what you think are probable tasks that'll be done, and design your robot to be able to do them cheaply and effectively. Trying to make a robot for "as many possible contingencies" will mean it will likely take a whole lot longer to design, to build, will cost more and all other things being equal, be more likely to break. The odds of something Going Wrong increases with the complexity of the device. Unless you plan on sending the rover with a bunch of spare parts and some arms to automatically perform repairs?

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

SenseiLeNoir (699164) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120703)

And remember, these robots are performing far beyond their original expected lifespan!

(So much for our beagle 2 project :( - I am a brit)

But, seriously, well done NASA.

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119943)

Just remember that the next time someone says that robots are just as capable as humans. A human crew could ride that far in a day, given an appropriate Mars buggy. Now, the cost to get those people and that buggy there is another question...

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121883)

After years on Mars, with no resupply? You'd need advanced zombie technology for that, regular frozen mummies just don't have the staying power.

Re:More than a suggestion (2, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121113)

I know that NASA are a bunch of good people, and I know that there are very good reasons for why they do things the way they do.
But PLEASE!!! 2 years to go 11 km? I know that the Rover will stop every now and then to check out soil samples etc, but 2 years???

Dude, it's around 2 feet long and being remotely controlled on a very long time delay and it's, what, several million km's away??

It can only go so far each day before it has to shut down, recharge, and wait for new driving instructions. That usually involves people looking at obstacles and coming up with a series of instructions for it to follow to move forward so it doesn't go crashing into a rock or into an unplanned crater.

It's not like they have detailed maps and a GPS tracking system you can just plug in the coordinates and have the auto-pilot start navigating there. This actually is some pretty challenging stuff.

Remember, they started designing these suckers some time in the 90's, and they've lasted several years longer than expected. Cut them some slack, it's not like your RC 4wd is going to fare very well on Mars or magically solve the control problem of piloting something that far away.

Man, you'd think plopping something onto a whole 'nother planet and navigating it around over fairly big (for the rover) distances was something that wasn't difficult. This falls well into the realm of completely bonus science for a mission which has been completely successful in terms of the engineering goals it did accomplish (and exceed).

Cheers

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121307)

I'm thinking of a radio controlled 4wd you can get from a serious hobby shop that'll do at least 1km between charges!

I invite you to run it for 5 years in abrasive grit with zero intervention.

Re:More than a suggestion (1)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121781)

If you pay NASA enough, they'll send a faster rover with nuclear power. I don't know if NASA accepts donations, but the U.S. Treasury does. Start donating.

Negotiate? Huh? (2, Funny)

kanweg (771128) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119509)

"new software recently uploaded to Opportunity will enable the rover to make its own decisions about how best to negotiate large rocks in its path"

What is the origin of that? I can speculate:
1) English origin: Very polite. You just don't go around the corner, you politely ask under what conditions it is allowed. "I beg your pardon, dear corner. Would it be inconvenient to you if we continue our way as indicated by you?
2) American origin: Don't take anything for granted. You may be sued by a corner before you know it. Call your lawyer. He'll do the negotiations. Oh boy, I hope he is tough, as this corner hasn't moved his position since I started talking to and yelling at it.

Bert

Re:Negotiate? Huh? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25119923)

What is the origin of that?

Pretty common usage in context (e.g., navigation). See the 4th entry in Dictionary.com [reference.com] :

to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner:

Rovers (1)

iamkion132 (1309521) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120249)

It's hard to believe these rovers have lasted as long as they have. Before, they had to plan in days in case anything went wrong, but now they're planning in years. These rovers have far exceeded all expectations and I wish the teams and rovers best of luck getting there.

Endeavor... (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120557)

to endeavor unto endeavor.

will be turned off by next president (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#25120717)

Both candidates say they are going to slash budget. When NASA's is cut, they'll dump their older projects.

I hear you're looking for a passage... (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121161)

...to the Endeavour crater.

- Yes indeed, if it's a fast rover.

- Fast rover? You've never heard of the Opportunity?

- No, should I have?

Lots of pretty picture = good VR (2, Interesting)

arthurp (1250620) | more than 5 years ago | (#25121877)

I think they should make a point of taking a full panoramic image every 10m or so. That way we can add that to the current data on mars and create a *really* nice VR version of that area. Being able to "walk" the same path as Opportunity in VR seems like it is a worthy PR and artistic goal and certainly wouldn't hurt the science of the mission either.
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