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NASA Mars Rover Spirit May Move Forward By Spinning Its Wheels

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the we'll-call-this-the-mars-paradox dept.

Mars 175

coondoggie writes "As NASA celebrates its Mars rover Spirit's sixth anniversary exploring the red planet, it is hunting for a way to keep the machine, which is mired in a sand trap, alive to see a seventh year. On its Web site, the space agency this week noted there may indeed be such an option. That option would be spinning the wheels on the north side of Spirit, letting it dig in deeper in the Martian sand but at the same time improving the tilt of the rover's solar panels toward the Sun."

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175 comments

Frosty Piss (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616046)

On Mars

Incredibly silly headline (5, Funny)

Vyse of Arcadia (1220278) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616048)

That ranks up there with "People kept alive by breathing."

Re:Incredibly silly headline (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616112)

"Spinning its wheels" is technically what wheeled vehicles do while in motion, but idiomatically, it refers to wheelspin on sand/snow/etc. that doesn't result in forward/backward motion. It's commonly used as a metaphor for futile action, and so when the literal case turns out to be beneficial, the result is a mildly amusing headline. To use your example, it's more like "people kept alive by breathing water", in that it's the opposite of what you'd expect.

Re:Incredibly silly headline (4, Insightful)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616278)

I agree, except you also have to realize that they're using "move forward" idiomatically, in that this idea may keep the rover functioning longer but will increase the chance that it is stationary for the remainder of its functional lifetime.

Re:Incredibly silly headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616280)

We know. It's one thing to not have a sense of humor but please don't ruin things for the rest of us.

Re:Incredibly silly headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617630)

Y'all ain't from round here, are ya? (banjo tag line from Deliverance)

Re:Incredibly silly headline (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617594)

"merely spinning its wheels"

Re:Incredibly silly headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616122)

..or "quality of first posts kept low by stupid comments from Vyse of Arcadia"

HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616062)

Floor it!

Re:HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (3, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616440)

I'm not fully versed in the hillbilly vernacular, but I believe the appropriate idiom is "Give 'er".

Re:HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617008)

That's what she said!

(Just hope it was a FFM)

Re:HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617204)

Fully Functional Male?

Re:HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (1)

natd (723818) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617448)

I was going with "Give 'er Joey [wikipedia.org] " but that may not be a global term...

Re:HillBilly Engineering at its Finest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30618476)

There is a reason why NASA is in Texas and Florida...

Let's start digging then... (1)

Sumbius (1500703) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616102)

Somehow I have a bad feeling that while allowing the rover to remain operational for a bit longer, it will also ironically become stuck in the hole it dug.

Re:Let's start digging then... (2, Informative)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616120)

Yes, that is likely what would happen. What they're saying is, they may not be able to get the rover out, and if not this will provide the longest lifetime for observations from the now-stationary rover.

And one should add (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616220)

The rover was designed for a 90 day mission. If it made it to Mars operational, and was capable of operating for 90 (martian) days, the mission was a success. Here we are, years later and it is still working. It isn't as though this is a panic "Oh no we have to save the mission!" kind of thing. Rather, this is another step to see how long they can extend a tremendously successful mission. Even if the rover dies tomorrow, it will have far surpassed any expectations set for it.

Also of note is that Opportunity, the other of the two rovers launched, is currently trucking along towards a crater they want to look at.

Re:And one should add (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616318)

This is a blantant example of reverse sandbagging, they give really low expectations so they can claim big success.
On the other hand, this mission has gone on for six years so they can really pat themselves in the back since like 3 years ago.

Re:And one should add (3, Insightful)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616548)

Was it really designed for 90 days? It could be that the only way they could sell it to Congress was if they told them that they only had to pay for technicians for 3 months.

Re:And one should add (3, Informative)

CarlDenny (415322) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616714)

90 days may have been something of a lowball, but the expectation was that dust would accumulate on the rover's solar cells, gradually reducing their power output. Turns out, the dust wasn't as sticky as they thought, and the wind will blow it off on clearer days. That's a genuine discovery, and the main longevity boost. NASA can and have happily paid for a lot more ground crew and radio time for the little ladies.

Re:And one should add (5, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618308)

Was it really designed for 90 days? It could be that the only way they could sell it to Congress was if they told them that they only had to pay for technicians for 3 months.

Well, yes and no. The models suggested that the solar panels would be clogged up with dust so it'd be like a car with an empty gas tank, after 90 sols it'd be still in great condition but out of juice so that was the mission. In practice dust devils clear most of the dust, but noone knew that before they arrived. Perhaps some speculated and hoped, but certainly not knew or assumed. Nothing about the rover was intentionally limited to three months, though if they knew they'd be out there for many years I'm sure some design choices would have been different. But that's why we can send a second generation if and when these rovers finally kick the bucket.

Re:And one should add (5, Informative)

Osmosis_Garett (712648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616680)

Actually, Opportunity is examining the damaged heat shield from re-entry, which it just arrived at the other day [blogspot.com] .

Re:And one should add (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617034)

If by 'the other day' you mean 'the beginning of 2005', then yes [wikipedia.org] .

(The blog's utterly fascinating, and thanks for linking to it - but it's most definitely not real-time!)

Re:And one should add (1)

skastrik (971221) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617424)

LOL! A soap opera-ish blog from the trenches. Rivarly, cm vs inches and more.

Re:And one should add (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617976)

um actually....no it isn't. That happened like 5 years ago. Look at the sol #s duh.

Re:And one should add (1)

Attila the Bun (952109) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616782)

Here we are, years later and it is still working. It isn't as though this is a panic "Oh no we have to save the mission!" kind of thing.

The very fact that Spirit has worked so tremendously well up to now means that it is still an extremely valuable device. It's worth spending every effort to save the rover now, precisely because it has shown itself able to surpass its original goals by so much. In other words, age has increased rather than decreased its worth.

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616130)

It's already stuck. They have been trying to free it for the better part of a year. If it runs out of power, it's not going to move ever again. So they are desperate to get it tilted to improve the power situation.

          Brett

Re:Let's start digging then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616402)

So spinning the tires and throwing a cloud of dust onto the solar panels will end the mission for them, right? What did I miss here?

Re:Let's start digging then... (3, Informative)

scottdmontreal (1003416) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616492)

With a top speed of 5 cm per second, it won't be throwing much of a cloud of dust.

Re:Let's start digging then... (2, Funny)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616732)

In Earth it wouldn't, but it's a different matter in space. The dust wont be falling down but just flow all around the rover, since theres no gravity.

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616886)

You man the surface of Mars is all space with no gravity? Gee, I didn't know that.

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

shrimppesto (766285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616890)

The dust will flow all around the rover, since there's no gravity ... on Mars?

Re:Let's start digging then... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617070)

And THIS got a 2? WTF mods, just seppuku!

Re:Let's start digging then... (2, Informative)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617358)

It's a natural 2, no mods have given it a point (as of now).

Re:Let's start digging then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617252)

Uh? The rover is not in space, it's on Mars, with gravity and even a light atmosphere...

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617492)

Are you fucking serious?
Let's make this simple for you.
This is Mars, a PLANET. Planets have GRAVITY because they're VERY BIG and have a lot of MASS (mass is STUFF).

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

NotBorg (829820) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616160)

So they go from stuck to stuck. What's the difference?

Re:Let's start digging then... (5, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616212)

The difference is that winter is coming, and the sun gets low on the horizon. We can, if we chose, dig in on one side so that we tilt toward the sun, which means that we will get more solar energy, and so the solar powered rover will survive the winter.

(We've tilted the rover into the sun every winter so far-- if we don't, this will be the first winter we've tried to survive without tilting into the sun)

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

sdpuppy (898535) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616364)

That option would be spinning the wheels on the north side of Spirit, letting it dig in deeper in the Martian sand but at the same time improving the tilt of the rover's solar panels toward the Sun."

The difference is that winter is coming, and the sun gets low on the horizon.

Good idea - I saw someone do that with their car the other day and - dang - you should have seen the guy zoom outta there.

:-)

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617506)

The difference is between "stuck" and "stuck and dead".

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616168)

Well it's been stuck now for a long time, if they can't get it loose then it'll die anyway. Right now this is more a marathon event to see how long they can stay alive than anything else, they must have done every secondary and tertiery science mission ever planned for it and is just making it up as they go along now.

Re:Let's start digging then... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616802)

There are some unexplored rock formations around it's area, dubbed "Home Plate", that they wanted to explore more if it was mobile. But even if they could free it from the dust trap, it has only 4 good wheels left, meaning its mobility is limited to very flat and safe areas if it ever escapes.

maybe next time they can put a little backhoe... (2, Interesting)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616138)

attachment so it can dig itself out.

Re:maybe next time they can put a little backhoe.. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616864)

I was thinking that a thin but flexible robotic arm would have 3 uses: 1) Moving rocks to study what's beneath, 2) Digging out stuck wheels, and 3) cleaning off solar panels with a little brush.
 

Re:maybe next time they can put a little backhoe.. (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617554)

That would cost something on the order of a few million dollars. You have to design the arm, build the arm, test the arm, and then fly the arm into space. Every kilogram of mass adds something on the order of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars to launch costs.

And then it also has to run off of the solar panels, draining more power. There really isn't anything to justify the cost of it. The rovers have already lasted a hell of a lot longer than they should have without any arm. Moving rocks isn't going to do you any good, the landscape is a lot more barren than it is here on earth. You could achieve the same results by studying the top of the rock, or just digging down a little bit by spinning the wheels or something. You'd only get different results if you drill down several meters, and that takes more than a robotic arm.

Re:maybe next time they can put a little backhoe.. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618512)

It doesn't have to be a big arm. It could be long and thin. And it only uses power when it's needed, such as digging the wheels out or cleaning the solar panels. It's not like the x-ray spectrometer that runs and runs when used.

Heh (3, Interesting)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616158)

You know what the solution to this problem is? Send more rovers. Lots more. If we had a spare rover near Spirit, we could probably have it roll over and give Spirit a tow...

Re:Heh (2, Interesting)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616188)

You know what? I'm not a NASA planetary exploration scientist, but that sounds like an interesting idea.

Send rovers in pairs, each with half the instrumentation load, but tethered together by a cable. One gets stuck, the other pulls it out. Give the cable a release so if one rover dies, the other can continue with the remaining instruments.

Re:Heh (4, Funny)

CarlDenny (415322) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616234)

Except then you're putting all your eggs in one basket if there's a landslide that drags them both down, a sandstorm that prevents solar charging, or a problem on landing.

Maybe if we sent up two identical rovers, but dropped them off independently at different points on the planet?

Re:Heh (0, Redundant)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616314)

Maybe if we sent up two identical rovers, but dropped them off independently at different points on the planet?

You mean like Spirit(MER-A) and Opportunity(MER-B)?

WHOOOSH on me?

Re:Heh (2)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618408)

Maybe if we sent up two identical rovers, but dropped them off independently at different points on the planet?

NASA's going to need a pretty long cable for that.

Re:Heh (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616276)

Yes, but getting them to mars intact is still a big problem.

Re:Heh (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616310)

Yes, but getting them to mars intact is still a big problem.

Although we seem to be doing rather well at it.

Re:Heh (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616384)

Not really. The Mars Polar lander was lost, Deep Space 2 was lost, and Europe lost Beagle 2. Russia lost the landers of Mars 2, 3 and 6. Really, Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix are the only rovers to make it.

Re:Heh (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616448)

Pathfinder + Sojurner? Phoenix?

Re:Heh (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616458)

Doh, just saw phoenix...reading fail.

Re:Heh (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616472)

So in other words, the Martians have significantly more effective missile defense systems than us?

Re:Heh (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616302)

Send rovers in pairs, each with half the instrumentation load, but tethered together by a cable. One gets stuck, the other pulls it out. Give the cable a release so if one rover dies, the other can continue with the remaining instruments.

One of the key issues is having power enough to heat them in the winter. For that reason alone it's probably better to build a bigger, more durable platform instead. It's not like it didn't have redundancy, each wheel has a separate drive and it's not like a fully operational rover would get stuck like this. They're just running out of redundancy.

Re:Heh (4, Interesting)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616952)

One of the key issues is having power enough to heat them in the winter.

If the supposedly 'enlightened' greenies wouldn't raise a huge ruckus, the answer is to either alloy Gadolinium 148 into the frame or just have a block of it hanging around. It gives off a huge amount of heat, and essentially no radiation that would harm the rover (it's one of the few strong pure alpha-emitting isotopes).

A fascinating paper [nanomedicine.com] on powering medical implants with radionuclides states:

A ~0.2 kg block of pure Gd148 (~1 in^3) initially yields ~120 watts, sufficient in theory to meet the complete basal power needs of an entire human body for ~1 century (given suitable nucleochemical energy conversion and load buffering mechanisms, and a sufficiently well-divided structure).

Also from that paper, an amazingly small sphere of Gd 148 can power small implants:

Among all gamma-free alpha-only emitters with t1/2 > 10^6 sec, the highest volumetric power density is available using Gd148 (gadolinium) which a-decays directly to Sm144 (samarium), a stable rare-earth isotope. A solid sphere of pure Gd148 (~7900 kg/m3) of radius r = 95 microns surrounded by a 5-micron thick platinum shield (total device radius R = 100 microns) and a thin polished silver coating of emissivity er = 0.02 suspended in vacuo would initially maintain a constant temperature T2 (far from a surface held at T1 = 310 K) of [ 600 K ] with a 75-year half-life, initially generating 17 microwatts of thermal power which can be converted to 8 microwatts of mechanical power by a Stirling engine operating at ~50% efficiency.

Re:Heh (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617862)

Wow. Remember Terminator 2, when Arnold said his power core would be good for about a century? James Cameron got that scientific fact exactly correct.

Re:Heh (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618400)

If they'd done that, the rovers would have covered about 1/10 of the terrain they have due to need to plan and execute every maneuver such that not only does it not get the rovers in trouble, the the cable doesn't get snagged either. Given that Spirit and Opportunity are already at the extreme limit of what the landing system they used is capable of - you'd have rovers half the size and with [probably] less than half the science payload of the current rovers.

Re:Heh (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616412)

"You know what the solution to this problem is? Send more rovers. Lots more. If we had a spare rover near Spirit, we could probably have it roll over and give Spirit a tow..."

We could afford to send MANY more unmanned missions (not to rescue other unmanned missions...yet) if we weren't spending a disproportionate amount of money on the romantic adventure of sending meat tourists into space. If the public want romance, let them fap to science fiction.

We are wasting resources that could be advancing the vital robotic capabilities we REQUIRE ANYWAY to explore the universe.

Re:Heh (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616892)

Some people do pay to be tourists, and those who don't pay (shuttle crews) are not tourists.

As for exploring the universe with robots, are we going to have subspace communications, or an eight-year latency with our robots near Alpha Centauri?

Interstellar exploration (1)

jheath314 (916607) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617560)

I would be thrilled to have robotic probes beaming back four-year-delayed updates from Alpha Centauri, since that is the only option that seems even remotely realistic. It's the travel time to the stars that is the problem, not the delay in your transmissions once you're there.

Even if we could accelerate a spacecraft to an insanely fast 0.1c (at present the fastest we've managed is 0.00025c), it would take almost half a century to reach our closest neighbor (assuming it wasn't destroyed by interstellar dust at that speed). Given our fragile construction, intensive life-support requirements, and short life-spans, it's difficult to see how such a manned mission could be attempted successfully.

I love Star Trek too, but until we develop warp drive, it's safe to say the best hope of reaching the stars is by robot.

Re:Interstellar exploration (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617706)

How easily can one control a robot with an eight-year latency? How easily could we pilot an unmanned craft to Alpha Centauri given such latencies?

Re:Heh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617798)

I say go for it. 8 year comms latency or not. The sooner we launch a probe out that way, the sooner we'll know more about the fringes of our solar system, then interstellar space, then another star system entirely. Sure, it may not survive to reach alpha centauri. It may die halfway there from a high velocity impact with a particulate of unknown orign. We may end up with skipping it through that system and slung out to who knows where, we may end up smashing it against an asteroid or dropping it straight into Alpha Centauri itself. We'll probably screw up something about orbital mechanics or relativity and miss our target completely. Even then having it do a 'near' flyby of a distant star system will offer us data we have NO other method of collecting. Unless we actually SEND the damn probe, we won't see any data save that which is both radiated towards us and strong enough to be picked up by our local equipment.

Consider that we've already sent relatively long range probes out to sample and measure the fringes of our solar system. They're still moving away from us. Why not send the next one in the direction of Alpha Centauri, with a higher output transmitter and a longer lasting power source? We know we can get it to the edge of our solar system, and what data it collects while here near home might be enough to justify the probe's cost alone. Anything it finds out in interstellar space, or many years down the line near alpha centauri would be a welcome bonus. Costing us only the further investment needed to man and maintain a listening system, logging whatever our probe may find.

Re:Heh (1)

ppc_digger (961188) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617610)

You seem to forget that a human scientist can do in a day what a rover does in a year.

With a few nuclear reactors, a water recycling system and some vegetation, settlers can survive indefinitely.

Re:Heh (1)

AnotherUsername (966110) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616576)

Well, we could always just start sending people to Mars. Work towards setting up a research station there, have the people do two year shifts. Then, when one rolls over, somebody could just roll it back over.

We could also, once we start sending people to Mars, figure out once and for all whether or not there is life there(bacterial or otherwise), and if there is not, we could start the terraforming process.

Re:Heh (1)

AnotherUsername (966110) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616600)

So I probably should say right now that I do realize how heavy the rovers are, and no, I don't see one person by themselves rolling it back over. It would be a team effort, or they would have machinery sent up that would be able to do the job. The whole point of the statement was that a human would be there to direct the operation on site.

better arms (0)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616594)

The rovers need a better arm. They should be capable of pushing themselves out of the dust or out of a rolled-over state with one arm. Some of the lunar rover designs have featured wheeled legs, each of which can articulate and also work as an arm (with the wheel twisted aside). If you had 6 articulated legs in a rover, the failure of 2 of them might be tolerable.

Re:better arms (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616916)

But all that costs money. Also, the more parts there are, the more that can break down.

And in my estimation, a robotic arm with a little shovel may be a better deal because it could also have a brush to clean the solar panels.

There is a single big rover that will be launched fairly soon. They didn't have time to change it for sand-trap problems, so it may get stuck also.

Re:better arms (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617248)

Curiousity would get to Mars in late 2012 if they keep on schedule. It doesn't have the solar panel problem and the freeze death problem as it's powered by radioisotope thermal which will hold up for a decade. The legs have additional articulation and the whole thing is much bigger (and way more complicated anyway), so the sand problems will be different. I do wish the arm was better.

Re:Heh (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618358)

You know what the solution to this problem is? Send more rovers. Lots more.

Why? The rovers can only answer a limited set of scientific questions and their landing systems can only reach a very small (and mostly scientifically uninteresting) portion of the planet's surface. Sending a lot of them is like hoping that, since you can't afford a car, a bunch of matchbox vehicles will serve as a useful replacement.
 

If we had a spare rover near Spirit, we could probably have it roll over and give Spirit a tow...

What a wonderful idea! Let's replace three quarters of the science payload with a robotic arm/hand and a winch and cable drum just in case one gets stuck an another just happens to be in the same vicinity. Put a few pots out in your backyard tonight, it just might rain soup.

Give'er Hell! (1)

tautog (46259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616198)

Ya gotta pin it to win it!

liquid methane oceans... (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616200)

it will be nice when we can but a nautical rover in that liquid methane ocean...and not have to pay engineers to kludge their way out every hole, sandy spot, or dusty place. Also be cool if it could use the methane as a fuel source.

Re:liquid methane oceans... (2, Informative)

CdBee (742846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616604)

Wouldnt the problem be the inverse of that on earth? IE you need oxygen to do anything useful with methane in the same way you need a flammable or reactive substance to do anything useful with oxygen.. ?

Re:liquid methane oceans... (1, Troll)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616668)

Except we humans are made to walk on ground. We know what to do when standing on something, so such a planet is of value to us.

Bring a few guys to Mars, give them basic tools and here you go: bricks can be made from local material using 5k years old technology, then you get buildings (making them hermetic is merely tricky but not insurmountable), and it's a straight road from there.

But people stuck in a boat on (or in) an ocean of methane? I can't see any obvious way to make such an outpost expand.

Thus, getting that nautical rover of yours would be pure exploration, while a ground vehicle can pave way to getting a foothold in a quite near future.

Re:liquid methane oceans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616692)

Except that there are no liquid methane oceans on Mars.

Great headline, there. (2, Insightful)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616250)

Honestly.

rock it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616268)

come on! just rock the rover back and forth!

or get out and push.

Opportunity still going strong (3, Informative)

CarlDenny (415322) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616288)

Because it was the first thing I wanted to know, Spirit's twin Opportunity is still going strong and puttering around a rock called Marqeutte Island. So regardless of how Spirit pans out, there's a really good shot at seeing year 8 of the Mars Rover 90 day mission.

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status_opportunity.html [nasa.gov]

Re:Opportunity still going strong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30616332)

Anybody else reminded of a 3 hour tour?

winter is coming.... see for yourselves (1)

CdBee (742846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616636)

Every update on that page gives the Rover's daily power generation in watt-hours. Its plummeting. I found that a fascinating insight into the seasons on an alien planet.

Proof of the tenacity and ingenuity of humanity (5, Insightful)

preaction (1526109) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616378)

7 years ago we put together a robot designed to survive a journey off of our own planet (secured to a fireball), through the vacuum of space (oxygen-breathing life need not apply), land on another planet (falling from miles above the surface) about which little is known (and nothing about the proper tire to use in a martian dust-pit). This tiny robot was hoped to survive for 90 days. It has survived for more than 2,500 days. This tiny moment of reflection brought to you by the You Really Are Alive In A Great Period of History Foundation.

Re:Proof of the tenacity and ingenuity of humanity (0, Troll)

Mutatis Mutandis (921530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616610)

Yes, or of over-engineering...

Most modern structures are designed to have a finite life plus some safety margin. That's not just a trick to sell more cell phones and washing machines, it is normal engineering practice to get the right balance of cost. The FAA would even refuse to approve a wing design for an aircraft that did not have a predicted but finite life. If the design life is exceeded that can be regarded as a bonus, but often it is also considered a sign that the engineers made it too expensive / heavy / complicated.

I guess that a life of 2,500 days for a design goal of 90 days can be justified on the grounds that, given the cost of getting it there, a premature failure would have been a great disappointment. On the other hand, maybe we could have added some useful extra sensor to the Rover, reducing its lifespan to "only" 1,000 days but providing it with a means to avoid sand traps...

Re:Proof of the tenacity and ingenuity of humanity (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616710)

On the other hand, maybe we could have added some useful extra sensor to the Rover, reducing its lifespan to "only" 1,000 days but providing it with a means to avoid sand traps...

Such a sensor would not have been worthwhile since the vehicle already has sensors that are partly effective for this sort of thing and the loss of lifespan would have more than offset the risk of getting mired in the sand.

Re:Proof of the tenacity and ingenuity of humanity (1)

Capt. Skinny (969540) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617304)

On the other hand, maybe we could have added some useful extra sensor to the Rover, reducing its lifespan to "only" 1,000 days but providing it with a means to avoid sand traps...

Neither of the rovers has been stuck in a sand trap for 1,500 days, so it seems NASA made the right choice.

Re:Proof of the tenacity and ingenuity of humanity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617894)

Not "or", "and".

Drifting contest (1)

stokessd (89903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616392)

Time to smoke some tires.

The other rover needs a winch like any respectable Range Rover would have. Sounds like a cheap fly-by-night sort of budget operation...Oh wait, it was.

Sheldon

Re:Drifting contest (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616578)

The other rover needs a winch like any respectable Range Rover would have. Sounds like a cheap fly-by-night sort of budget operation...Oh wait, it was.
Normally I'm all for NASA bashing, and they and the mentality they represent are certainly not the way our species will get off this rock sustainably. Still, it seems kind of wrong to dump on them when we're talking about the Mars rovers, which by almost any measure was a job well done.

The Flesh is Willing but the Spirit is Weak (1)

Greg Hullender (621024) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616690)

Considering how long Spirit has been stuck, it's quite amazing that the MER team keep plugging at this. Or maybe pulling the plug just doesn't occur to them. :-)

--Greg

Re:The Flesh is Willing but the Spirit is Weak (0, Offtopic)

shrimppesto (766285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616926)

And when they do decide to pull the plug, Sarah Palin will blame it on Obama and his death panels.

Rock it out. (1)

omb (759389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30616774)

Can someone in the know indicate if/why it can not rock itself out. About 4 times/year I have to rock my car out of street parking, if I left it out and it snows 10cm.

You would need to be able to load code to do the rock locally, and a 3d accerometer to decide when to change direction, or floor the drive as you came out.

Re:Rock it out. (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617074)

Rocking may work on snow, but powdery dirt/sand may be a different matter. When a gap opens up, dust at the top falls down into it. Snow tends to be clumpier than dust.

the obvious solution. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617040)

all we have to do is send someone to pull it out of the sand trap.

IT'S NOT THAT COMPLICATED!

you know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30617152)

just digging out this baby alone involves so much work...including engaging tons of experts and running countless simulations...and we still haven't figured out, nor are we confident enough of moving it. this is a far cry from star trek...where Picard just has to ask Commander Data to theorize and reverse polarity and stuffs...and the world is saved.

Stop extraction (1)

Frans Faase (648933) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617470)

With the progress they have made in the past weeks, and the problems that they had with the broken wheels (two wheels seems not be 'broken' by now), and the fact that the rover is still sinking deeper and deeper, I think I would stop the extraction process and go for getting Spirit survive the winter. It is a pitty for all the energy they invested in trying to find a safe extraction path with a spare rover here on earth, but maybe it is time to expect that the Spirit rover is stuck forever.

This is why we need to get people up there (1)

Hazelfield (1557317) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617774)

When you have an entire team of scientists having prolonged discussions about the best solution to such a simple problem as getting a small vehicle out of a sand trap, you know your methods are pretty limited.

If we had people on Mars, problems like these would be trivial to solve. The human body is a tremendously versatile instrument and you don't fully appreciate it until you try to do things with robots - especially if those robots are located several light minutes away. Sending humans to Mars would simplify exploration by leaps and bounds. All that has been discovered so far in 35 years of probe landings could probably be done in a few days with astronauts present.

Design (0, Flamebait)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 4 years ago | (#30617794)

This should be a lesson on how not to design a Rover. Getting out of a sand trap isn't hard if you think about it beforehand and plan accordingly. We knew Mars was sandy before we sent them there. Some sort of jacking mechanism that moves the wheels out of the holes they're in, or wheels on articulated arms that can be moved one at a time out of holes. Even bigger wheels would have made getting trapped in the first place less likely.

I know I don't work at Nasa but,... (1)

AbRASiON (589899) | more than 4 years ago | (#30618140)

I think they are kind of clutching at straws now.
I wish them the very best but I think I'd start taking bets on them not getting this puppy out of the sand (even if they do, how do they know it's not thicker 5' away?)
RIP little dude.

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