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End of the Road For NASA's Mars Rover?

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the hello-up-there dept.

Mars 181

An anonymous reader writes "NASA celebrated Mars rover Spirit's bountiful, six-year stint on the red planet on Sunday – way longer than its forecast three-month mission. But it all may soon come to an end, stuck as it is in Martian sand."

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What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642220)

They're trying to spin the wheels [slashdot.org] so that the rover digs deeper in the sand, but could adjust solar panels in to better position. It probably couldn't get up from there anymore, but could still remain in operation in the sand pit.

Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

But without Spirit, is there really any Opportunity to succeed?

Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid. (5, Interesting)

Web Goddess (133348) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642238)

I wish the poster had done a better job summarizing the situation. Spirit is stuck in the sand and can't rock itself free; because it's not moving, sand and dust is collecting on the solar panels; winter is coming on Mars, making the solar energy that much weaker anyway.

But even as cute little rover sits there spinning, its wheels are doing Science, they dug down to a layer with sulfur. Sulfur indicates hydrothermal vents, and hydro is the greek word for water. Woot!

A miracle could happen; a sandstorm could clean off the solar panels, allowing enough energy for a mighty push that could free the machine.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (4, Interesting)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642372)

Does it need continuous power to stay capable of operating? Or could it just wait over winter without power to see if there was a storm that cleaned its solar panels, and continue when more power is available again?

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (4, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642506)

Does it need continuous power to stay capable of operating?

Yes. It requires some nominal amount of power for heating to avoid freezing and damaging components. This is what happened to the Phoenix lander (as anticipated in that case). With the panels covered in dust, plus the additional cold and lack of sunlight during the winter, Spirit is unlikely to survive the winter unless something changes.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643792)

I though they did not use electric heaters on the rovers but used radioactive heating and aerogel insulation.. or was that the first little toy rover we sent?

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (2, Informative)

Mercano (826132) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644172)

Weight. If you use nuclear power source, you've got to bring your fuel with you, where as with solar, the fuel is already packed away safely in the sun; you just need to bring a collector. Mars, unlike the outer planets, is still close enough to the sun that you get a reasonable amount of power from solar cells, if you have enough square footage, so solar wins the power/weight ratio contest. Besides, these things weren't built to survive the winter at all; the design requirements only called for three months.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (2, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644252)

I though they did not use electric heaters on the rovers but used radioactive heating and aerogel insulation..

You are correct that they do have a radioisotope heater and aerogel insulation, but they do use electrical heating as well to augment the base level created by the radioisotope heater. Without electrical power, it most likely won't have enough heat to survive winter.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (3, Interesting)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642570)

It needs enough power to at the very least maintain the heating of the components to a level where they will not be compromised. If the rover gets too cold over the winter, the actual materials of the rover could be damaged by the cold temperatures. In theory, it is possible that the rover could recover from a minimal power state if the panels were cleared of dust by a storm or something, but it's not all that likely. Mars is not a very hospitable place to begin with, and is a *very* bad place to run out of gas (proverbially).

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (5, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642598)

IIRC they put it in "low power mode" last Martian winter and were pleasantly surprised when it survived, booted up, and restarted communications with Earth again when there was enough sunlight available. The trouble is, this year it's stuck at a less-than-ideal angle for collecting sunlight so there may be less of a chance of a springtime startup unless they can adjust the position, which of course takes, well, power. It's a risk either way. Plus, I think it's just locked up a second wheel, leaving it with 4 of 6.

So we'll see. If it can't move again but gets power, its utility as a science platform is going to be severely impacted. Still, it will be able to collect data and pictures of the changing landscape in its immediate vicinity, and it seems to have gotten stuck in an interesting spot, so there will still be useful data coming out of it.

And since the warranty ran out 5+ years ago, I think even a partly functional stationary science platform is pretty darned impressive.

Even after six years, the simple fact that Mankind has working scientific instruments on Mars gives me a geekgasm all over again.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643162)

"IIRC they put it in "low power mode" last Martian winter and were pleasantly surprised when it survived, booted up, and restarted communications with Earth again when there was enough sunlight available."
Weird.. I dont see why it was a surprise considering that it did science even throughout the winter. It was only put in low power/rest mode for shorter periods of time to ensure that the battery had enough charge. The main problem this year is that the rover is stuck and that the solar panels arent facing the sun directly which will mean even less power and possible not even enough power to keep the heaters running.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642614)

I believe it needs a small amount of power to keep the antenna pointed towards us in order to continue to receive commands.

Maybe in the future, we can design solar panels that won't collect dust over time. Or figure out how to turn the radioactive heating units into emergency backup power.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (4, Insightful)

Web Goddess (133348) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643128)

I dunno what's with the blame game, it's alone on Mars, something was going to go wrong eventually. If the designers had made an improvement that would alleviate THIS problem, something else would be missing making THAT a problem.

Oh if only someone had thought to turn the radioactive heating units into emergency backup power! (sarcasm) If only someone had thought to install fans to blow the dust off! (previous poster, more sarcasm.)

It is an incredibly well-designed machine; just like with the human body, everything has a cost. Improving one item means less for the rest.

When I toured JPL it was obvious that the people there have an emotional bond with this little animal robot, its gritty determination, it's spirit of exploration.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (2, Interesting)

Lifyre (960576) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643318)

There is actually a windshield/glass technology out there now that can prevent (or at least slow) the dust from building up on the glass of the solar panels. Unfortunately it wasn't around when these guys were built, proven, and then shipped off to a strange hostile world where they have run around like little conquering heroes.

These little guys (and by extension their designers, etc...) are a shining examples of going above and beyond the call of duty.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644218)

Does it need continuous power to stay capable of operating?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, yes it does. There's some detail in the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] (oddly in the section on dust storms). There's also some nice "footage" of a Martian 'dust devil' [wikipedia.org] - one of which fortuitously cleaned Spirit's solar panels earlier in the mission

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642440)

Maybe well get lucky. Maybe it will strike oil. Heh, the scientific community would seriously shit kittens if that ever happened.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643688)

Maybe well get lucky. Maybe it will strike oil. Heh, the scientific community would seriously shit kittens if that ever happened.

We'd just invade. And blame the Martians as the biggest threat to our nation's security....

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642454)

Why don't they ask the dune coons how to deal with sand? Just tell them theres oil in it.

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642498)

Have you cleared this with Muad'Dib?

Late-Breaking News from the Council: VICTORY! (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642876)

Today the Council of Elders confirmed the rumours that the sinister blue planet third from our star has waved the white flag of surrender regarding one of its mechanical invaders. K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, reported the leak of an intelligence report from the blue world:

http://planetary.org/news/2010/1231_Mars_Exploration_Rovers_Update_Spirit.html [planetary.org]

Continuing his pronouncement, K'Breel continued: "The trap which we laid for the robotic invader has proven successful; the monstrosity from the blue world now lies half-buried in a Snarpat pit, impaled upon a spire of rock."

"Rejoice, podmates, one invader has been immobilized, and even as I speak to you, our teams are dutifully hunting down the second. It is of identical design as to the first, and we anticipate that it will succumb long before it reaches its destination!"

When a junior analyst suggested that both invaders had already exceeded their designed lifetimes by a factor of ten, and that even the immobilized one was one gust of wind away from being able to return operationally-useful scientific data from its current position for years to come, K'Breel had the analyst's gelsacs placed between the invader's slowly-spinning wheel and the crusty sulfates of Scamander Crater.

Re:Late-Breaking News from the Council: VICTORY! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643488)

...little they knew the third planet, as they spoke, was preparing new, immensely bigger monstrosity, powered by the force of elements of matter itself.

Re:Late-Breaking News from the Council: VICTORY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643820)

...little they knew the third planet, as they spoke, was preparing new, immensely bigger monstrosity, powered by the force of elements of matter itself.

"As one your leaders once said, 'Bring 'em on'!"
- K'Breel, Speaker for the Council

(When a press secretary reminded K'Breel that the leader in question had been deposed for almost half a year, K'Breel had the press secretary's gelsacs stapled to a chunk of plutonium, as part of ongoing research into how heat sinks could be positioned to divert heat away from thermoelectric couplings on the invaders' RTG units :)

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643500)

They discovered Greeks on Mars? No wonder Mt. Olympus is there!

Re:Spoiler: Why it's dying; emits one last factoid (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643772)

What I wonder and nobody has brought up. Why cant it die and come back in the spring? IT should be like any computer/robot and easily recover from a total power failure and restoration.

Why not let it sleep all winter and check in the spring when it may have enough solar-juice to come back online?

Rover back to earth (1)

t3chn0n3rd (1490333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643996)

Will the rover come back to earth or will it float off into space?

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642438)

Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

Remember, the mission was intended to last at least 90 days, not multiple Mars seasons. They looked at brushes, cling-film, sliding-film, fans, and anti-static methods. The weight-to-benefit ratio, and the complexity of any of the approaches, ruled them out for this mission.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642668)

Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

Air pressure averages about 1% of Earth's. There simply isn't enough atmosphere to justify a fan or the power it would draw.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

steveb3210 (962811) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643290)

how about something to vibrate them..

One word (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643298)

Terraforming
It worked perfectly in the simulation known as Total Recall

All we need to do now is send in the Governator to activate the reactor and the Spirit will live again

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643420)

OTOH the same atmosphere is able to support dust particles (heck, even dust storms) which cover the panels with...dust. So it might be not so clear-cut.

From what I've heard, it was more about not knowing enough about dust dynamics in the Martian atmosphere at the time of rover development. Certainly not enough to justify the added complexity. They were surprised at the occasional cleaning effects after all.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (2, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643864)

Two cans of computer duster in quick draw holsters. DUH!

This is not rocket science here...... Oh wait....

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

bxwatso (1059160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643416)

The Martian atmosphere is so thin that any typical fan could not move the dust, i suspect. However, you could design the solar panels to tilt and shake the dust off. Still, they were designed for a few months service, making dust a non-factor.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (4, Insightful)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643418)

"wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?"

It was only expected to go 90 days, and not expected to suffer much dust or winter over.

Another in the long line of 'why didn't they'. As in:

"Why didn't they build these things to last 6 years?" Answer: They weren't expected to.

"Why didn't they think of this or that?" Answer: The mission requirements did not include that.

"Why did they do this or that?" Answer: They exercised their best judgement at the time. So far, so good.

What part of exceeding your expectations by 24 times are you complaining about? Your GF expected a 1.0+ct diamond, and she got a 24-ct one? She complains it's VSS-1? That it's heavy? That it catches on her clothes? That it blinds people on the street?

And does she ask you how much you paid for it, and you end up telling her the truth, you paid for a 1/4 ct brilliant, and wow, 6 years later ya got this...

Again, no complaints about the Rovers. Spectacular performance. And NASA is scouting around for the next robotic mission. Ask some of these guys for ideas, anyone?

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643694)

Exactly. And the MSL is going to be nuke powered, none of this fussing around with solar panels. Of course the MSL is going to be HUGE compared to the MER landers.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643536)

atmosphere in mars is 1/10 as thick at only 1% the pressure of earth.

fans would be useless.

Re:What happened to their plan from a few days ago (1)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643540)

Also, if you're putting a robot on a sand planet, wouldn't it kind of make sense to have some fans to blow off the sand from the solar panels?

Because it was designed for a 3 month mission. Every ounce of weight added is a massive deal to a project like that where it would either add cost or require weight to be removed from somewhere else. As it was they were really testing the limits of the parachute/rocket/bouncy ball re-entry method.

If they were really serious about a long duration rover project they would have sent an RTG powered probe... kind of like what the Mars Science Labratory [nasa.gov] will have.

Wont end .... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642258)

It won't come to an end, it will just become a stationary astronomy platform.

look on the bright side (4, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642270)

some exoarcheology student in a couple hundred years is going to make the find of his life

Re:look on the bright side (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642370)

I hope you mean some extra-terrestrial exoarcheology student, because it's too sad to imagine that all information on the rovers will be lost in a couple hundred years.

Re:look on the bright side (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642582)

Yes, that's more sad than thinking those extra-terrestrials have either killed us or drove us away from our solar system.

Re:look on the bright side (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642664)

Yes, that's more sad than thinking those extra-terrestrials have either killed us or drove us away from our solar system.

Wow, foreign students must be pretty violent in your country. As you're still alive I guess they drove you away?

Or maybe you're the foreign student and you killed the entire population of the country you were visiting?

Re:look on the bright side (1)

yurtinus (1590157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643054)

I think he meant they took'd his jearb.

Re:look on the bright side (1)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643994)

Or maybe you're the foreign student and you killed the entire population of the country you were visiting?

Or maybe he's one of the foreign "explorers" that come long before the students do... they're the ones that do the killing and the driving away...

a doctoral dissertation, 2250: (5, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642726)

"the lost century: the millennial archive hole"

abstract: paper archives from the 1900s are still useable today, the only barrier being language conventions of that time period. additionally, digital records from the 2100s are usable today, due to mandated standardization of file formats and the prevalence of cheap, eternal nanoholographic storage. however, the 2000s consisted mainly of magnetic and optical storage on flimsy media. additionally, file formats were often proprietary, quirky, and ever changing due to the rapidly evolving nature of digital technology from that early era. if the actual media itself wasn't degraded, the file format itself was usually forgotten in a generation or two. finally, many early groundbreaking sites of the primitive internet are lost to posterity simply because they were designed to be ephemeral and ever changing, and no one thought to take archival snapshots of their content. it didn't seem important at the time. and so, the early decades of the digital age, when many fundamental crucial decisions were made that have defined our culture today, are forever lost to us

Ugh, maybe civilization will go down the shitter.. (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643020)

...after all (how it has been predicted since the beginning of written history when looking at the intellectual and moral demise of youth, of course)

Or at the least promoters of PHDs will do that. How could one dealing with the above dissertation let it through without mentioning DRM?

that's a benefit of flimsy media storage today (0, Redundant)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643158)

in the future, no one will know DRM even existed

Re:that's a benefit of flimsy media storage today (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643310)

The future it will not be called DRM. It will be the way it is. If one format wins out over all others, everyone will use the same format.

Promoters will be worse than I thought at first (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643312)

Sooo...how could they know that "file formats were often proprietary, quirky, and ever changing due to the rapidly evolving nature of digital technology from that early era. ... the file format itself was usually forgotten in a generation or two. ... sites of the primitive internet are lost to posterity simply because they were designed to be ephemeral and ever changing"? ;p

Re:Promoters will be worse than I thought at first (1)

jbezorg (1263978) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643846)

You see, some Internet Technologist were rich enough to afford elaborate burials. They were placed in tombs underneath their Mother's abode and were buried with their accumulated wealth. Heirloom electronics that has been passed down through generations, ritual energy drinks ( long since gone ), and other goods thought to be needed in the afterlife. And although the ages have toppled these revered accouterments needed to make the passage into the afterlife into piles of debris, they also allowed for the preservation of some and it is from these fossilized remains that the scientific community draws these conclusions.

Re:that's a benefit of flimsy media storage today (1)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644030)

in the future, no one will know DRM even existed

Why? Are you going to DRM all the documents mentioning DRM?

Hopefully they will know that it existed (and that it was a really bad idea). Something about those that forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them...

So? (3, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643264)

The covering stones of the Pyramids have been used to build other buildings. The Chinese wall has been dismantled for resources as well. Painting have been painted over for the want of a canvas. Tapes for tv-shows have been re-used because tapes were expensive and who cared about another sitcom.

It is nothing new. We learned most of the egyptians from their dump site where they dropped tons of daily, and in their eyes, worthless communication. One accidently saved backup of MySpace will tell future researchers more then museums of our age. It is the data we don't care about that tells the most about us.

Some floppies will survive, purely by accident, and it will be, enough. The holocaust is important for our generation and yet its most influential book, The Diary of Anne Frank, is an accident. You could have all the records of the holocaust in tact, and it still wouldn't speak as loudly. If all the diaries of all the victims still existed, then they would be meaningless, a huge pile of paper nobody would ever bother to read. Precisely because records of the past are rare, we value them. If we knew every move of the roman empire, had it all on paper, what would be there to explore? Proof? How many people study ancient history vs the present? You can get all the records of the current senate of the world most powerful nation... C-span. Nobody is watching.

Re:So? (1)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644098)

B-b-b-but some bald guy told me that the Diary of Anne Frank, and the holocaust, were a hoax!

Re:a doctoral dissertation, 2250: (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643748)

If we preserve 0.01% of the digital junk we keep around, the 2000s will be much better documented than the 1900s. Hell, I was reading not that long ago about a huge library of old newspapers (like dead tree from the 1800s) that was being thrown away, because no one wanted to pay for storage. It's all been digitized though, probably OCRs too so you can do things like search it instead of sifting through endless microfiles. One reason alone digital will survive because it's valuable, I just recently noticed a newspaper I read would let you access every edition back to 1945 for a fee. That earns money, having a vault of newspapers? I doubt it.

Besides, who does anything valuable that's bound to a media format anymore? It's called a disc image, and let you store it on any digital medium without having a real floppy or CD or DVD or whatnot. I talked to a relative of mine, they were getting fiber installed now, 15/15 Mbit was the slowest they'd offer. With that, you can have version-preserving, offsite backups in multiple bunkers half-way around the globe, safe for all but armageddon. Even if half the world was nuked pretty much all music would survive if Spotify's servers do. And don't think there'd be any lost episodes of Doctor Who.

The format stuff is overrated. Emulation and virtualization means no one cares if there's no more C64s and Spectrums and Amigas and Motorola Macs, the images still run. And just because you can't open an ancient doc file in Office 2007 on Windows 7, does anyone really think we honestly couldn't find a binary of Office 95, fire it up in a virtualized Windows 95 and look? The only things that are really lost are some obscure science formats that nobody had or saw the purpose of or stuff that could only be captured once, like the original moon landing tape.

Sure there will be personal tragedies of people who didn't pay any attention but they already do. Many, many people have realized when their homes burned down that uh-oh, all our family photos went with it. But the abundance of bandwidth and storage we're seeing is also an incredible opportunity to make easy, lazy solutions. Also wireless broadband can eventually become cheap enough that you backup as you go, if you lose the camera you might lose that day's picture but not your month-long trip. The greatest danger you'll lose something is because your relatives had a little "accident" when you tried to show the 10431 pictures and 2554 minutes of video grandaunt Selma took of her little wonderbrat.

All Your (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642336)

planetary explorers will belong to us.

After we buy Iranian enriched uranium.

Yours In Honolulu,
Kim Jong iL

Note: It was not designed to last 90 days (1)

mykepredko (40154) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642344)

Anytime Spirit/Opportunity are mentioned here, somebody puts in the post that they are amazing, considering they were designed to work for 90 days.

It should noted that they were designed to work no matter what for their initial 90 day mission and that running beyond that was expected.

Of course, running 6+ years is quite an accomplishment.

myke

Re:Note: It was not designed to last 90 days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642566)

It's like the miracle of Hanukkah all over again.

Re:Note: It was not designed to last 90 days (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642748)

It should noted that they were designed to work no matter what for their initial 90 day mission and that running beyond that was expected.

Very true. 90 days was a "guaranteed" lifetime for doing the cost-benefit analysis for the mission. Obviously to guarantee 90 days, the rover would have to be designed to last much longer than that.

It should also be noted that the 90 day lifetime was based on how long they thought it would take before the Martian dust covered the solar panels and the rover died. Various cleaning mechanisms were considered, but ultimately weren't considered worth it. That the Martian wind happens to be enough to do an adequate job of blowing dust off the panels by itself was an unexpected but happy surprise, and is the reason the rovers lasted past 90 days.

Of course, running 6+ years is quite an accomplishment.

Indeed. It's a testament not just to the engineering team who designed the rovers, but to the operations team that has kept it going.

Also, while only obvious in hindsight, and even though it is what will ultimately kill the rover, not including a cleaning mechanism was the right call.

Lastly, I find it amazing that even sitting on what may be its final resting spot, in its final days, on its last leg (or rather wheel, at least on one side), it is still doing remarkable science. There is so much to learn about Mars that is literally right below the surface.

I can't wait for the Mars Science Laboratory. Also, I'm really hoping they take Lore Sjoberg's [youtube.com] suggestion to heart and make one of MSL's missions to run over Spirit/Opportunity, monster-truck style. But if they can't fit that in to the mission parameters, I'll understand.

Anyone seen the movie Saw? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642468)

Clearly the rover isn't making much progress with it's 'dead foot' stuck in the sand, so why can't we cut it off? Yes, I know that wasn't part of the package, but it'd be pretty cool if the Rover could dispatch its lifeless appendage with a saw, or laser, and continue on its merry way. Oh well...

I don't recall the location of the other rover, but can that scoot over to the broke down r.c. car...err rover and help it out? Worst case is that one gets stuck, but at least they won't be lonely then. :)

These things remind me of the little engine that could! Keep on truckin'!!!!

Re:Anyone seen the movie Saw? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642564)

I see the next installment of the Saw series forming here.

Re:Anyone seen the movie Saw? (2, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642590)

Clearly the rover isn't making much progress with it's 'dead foot' stuck in the sand, so why can't we cut it off?

As I understand it, there are no "stuck" feet. The rover simply doesn't have the traction (perhaps combined with low motive power) to leave this area of sand.

Re:Anyone seen the movie Saw? (1)

Maddog Batty (112434) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642674)

One wheel failed years ago and a second failed recently. Both have shown signs of life recently but in the last attempt to move the Rover only 4 of the 6 wheels moved. The two wheels that failed are on the side with the best traction of course.

Re:Anyone seen the movie Saw? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643070)

The rovers are far away, they will never meet (well, not on their own accord; who knows, retrieval teams might keep them in one place before sending to separate museums, for example)

And we want it that way - what's the point of two rovers if they explore the same strip of the planet?

Another Failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642538)

Cue the media reports of another NASA failure in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ....

Re:Another Failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643048)

Cue the media reports of another NASA failure in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ....

(sounds of tumbleweed blowing past)

Way to go, NASA! (4, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642544)

As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (4, Interesting)

amabbi (570009) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642972)

As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

I think it's also important to note that NASA is something like 5/6 in Mars landings.... no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully. People (correctly?) shit on NASA for its perceived failings in manned spaceflight but it has an unbeatable record in interplanetary exploration.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (3, Interesting)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643122)

Sort of, the soviets managed to land intact on Mars twice. Of course since both lander stopped working within half a minute it's hard to really call them successful.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (2, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643218)

...no other agency in the world has even landed 1 successfully...

Huh? While mission of Soviet Mars 3 lander was pretty much a failure (transmission ended 20s after landing due to unknown reasons; what it transmitted and observations suggest it had the misfortune of landing in extreme dust storm), it has successfully landed. It was the first man-made objest on Mars that did.

There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

Re:Way to go, NASA! (3, Informative)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643616)

The USSR bounced plenty of probes off and past Mars before and after the Mars 3 lander. Getting onto the surface of Mars is no trivial task. I think they had 7 failures (not including launchpad kerfuffles) where the probe either stopped responding, missed the planet or created a new crater.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (2, Insightful)

eples (239989) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643726)

There is something about worth of accomplishments if only own ones are remembered...

Just landing isn't much of an accomplishment. Did the Soviets get any useful science from the landing itself? They don't even know why it stopped working after it landed (successfully). Please, remember this all you want - I have no objection.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (1)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644080)

In Soviet Mars, Russia lands on you!

Re:Way to go, NASA! (2, Insightful)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644076)

There's an old trueism - "you get something right, nobody remembers. You get something wrong, nobody forgets."
Sadly, no organisation in history has suffered from that more than NASA.

Re:Way to go, NASA! (1)

cmiller173 (641510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643220)

As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- ...

From CNN circa 1999...

NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency's team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday.

...

The latest findings show that the spacecraft's propulsion system overheated and was disabled as Climate Orbiter dipped deeply into the atmosphere, JPL spokesman Frank O'Donnell said.

That probably stopped the engine from completing its burn, so Climate Orbiter likely plowed through the atmosphere, continued out beyond Mars and now could be orbiting the sun, he said.

missed it by that much...

Re:Way to go, NASA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30644308)

As spectacular as some of its failures have been -- like slamming a probe into Mars because one group failed to convert the units the other group was using -- it's important to recognize that NASA is capable of equally spectacular successes. These rovers have done way more than anyone expected and helped us learn a tremendous amount about Mars. We definitely got more than our money's worth on this project, and the scientists and engineers whose hard work made it happen deserve some serious accolades.

Your analysis seems to indicate that NASA is at fault for not knowing that JPL was using a non-standard measurement system, nor properly checking on their contractors responsibilities. In fact, JPL was in breach of contract for using the Imperial system and then further for not indicating that they were when its standard practice to use metric. In the end, yes, NASA had the mud on their face and had to take responsibility, but the only error on their part was in relying on others and not having the budget to do it all themselves.

Hats off to the rover designers (5, Insightful)

Alcimedes (398213) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642548)

I'd just like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to the folks that designed this rover. It was slated for a 180 day mission, and they just finished up day 2,190. That's some pretty high quality engineering that must have gone into this project, especially when you take into account it's on *another planet*, so no tech to fiddle with something that's just a bit off here or there.

No parts, no cleaning, no help at all. To top that off, it's doing all of this on Mars, which isn't really an electronics friendly environment. It crash landed on another planet from a rocket ship and worked 10x longer than it was supposed to.

Well done.

Re:Hats off to the rover designers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642836)

Go Cornell!

Re:AMAZING!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643332)

..what happens when market forces don't dictate a design to fail by date.
If you had a warranty out on the rover it would have died in transit!

Re:Hats off to the rover designers (1)

gohsthb (1692342) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643478)

Maybe that's why it lasted so long. . . No tech to 'fiddle' with it.

All is not lost (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642572)

One option being considered is spinning the wheels on one side in the hope of tilting the solar panels to face the winter sun. Even if Spirit never travels again, all is not lost. There is a radio experiment for measuring the wobble of Mars as it spins that requires the rover to stay in one place. The key is surviving the upcoming winter, which may depend on a fortuitous wind blowing accumulated dust off the solar panels.

End of the Road (2, Funny)

Russianspi (1129469) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642640)

Funny you should use that euphemism. A road would have helped the rover considerably.

Sad Face. :( (1)

lwap0 (866326) | more than 4 years ago | (#30642678)

It's not over yet for Spirit! Still, should the unfortunate happen, I'll pour out a bottle of Ye Olde Fortran in memoriam.

First man on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30642834)

Since he seems to have some time on his hands perhaps an easy solution would be sending Tiger Woods to Mars with a sand wedge?

It's not dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643038)

It's just pining for the sinuses [wikipedia.org] .

NASA did it on purpose. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643112)

NASA got the little rover stuck on purpose. So they could propose a manned rescue mission.

Re:NASA did it on purpose. (1)

DrVxD (184537) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644268)

So they could propose a manned rescue mission.

Before they can get funding for that, they'll have to send Opportunity over to help out and get that stuck too...

Cheers to all those involved! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643154)

Cheers to all those involved. The twin rovers were brilliant!

Re:Cheers to all those involved! (1)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643370)

The other one is still going just fine.

A Martian Geodetic Observatory (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643232)

Those of us who are interested in Martian climate oscillations hope that they can turn Spirit into a Martian geodetic observatory, to study the rotation of Mars. There hasn't been a good platform for doing this since Viking 1 died some 27 years ago.

As Bill Folkner [nasa.gov] says : ""Long-term change in the spin direction could tell us about the diameter and density of the planet's core. Short-period changes could tell us whether the core is liquid or solid." There would also be good science in comparing the current rotation rate of Mars with the value determined by Viking; such data would be sensitive to changes in the water and CO2 accumulated at the Polar Caps.

Too bad... (0)

EriktheGreen (660160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643316)

Too bad the design didn't include a wind generator...something with hugely oversized blades on a light, expanding tower, to catch the thin air. It would look like a giant palm tree walking across mars.

Even better, how about a rover with a giant sail, rolling across the landscape using spoked free wheels rather than powered ones, or even wide skis.

The silly thing is that the way these missions are designed, it costs NASA a bundle to keep the lights on. Not on the rover of course, but all the telecom equipment and people. If NASA designed a low cost communication system that could support these things for years, then they could just leave the thing operating and hand it over to a secondary investigator or intern to do science with. Or even a class of school kids.

We could have dozens of these things operating on the moon, controlled directly from earth stations, for years at a time.

Erik

Re:Too bad... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644010)

They can. Problem is that you cant get people with Phd's to work for mission control for $8.95 an hour and work in a shipping container.

You can communicate with mars for cheap, problem is the Cost of doing anything within a NASA building with NASA employees is expensive. Give the rovers control software and documents to a university and you could run it for peanuts... Students dont care about working in a non air-conditioned shipping container for nothing.

I don't understand this (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643348)

I don't understand this article. Can someone make a car analogy for me?

Re:I don't understand this (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644024)

It's stuck in the snow, the cellphone is dead and they lost their AAA card.

How to make a 3 month stint last 6 years (1, Funny)

viking80 (697716) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643424)

Have you ever landed a dream job with dream pay, only to realize it is just a 3 month contract? What do you do to extend it, and for how long can you do that?
Here are the rules:
1. Dont brake anything you need to do your job.
2. Do everything really slow. And I mean really slow:
  -Tell your boss it will take 6 month to make a right turn.
  -Be a hero when you are able to do it in 3 months, stop the vehicle, take a lot of pictures, have some discussions, test the right turn in a sandbox, discuss more etc.
3. Never take any risks. Test anything you plan to do in a sandbox again and again. It is actually fun to drive an RC car. If the car is stuck, you are unemployed. To the public, call it mission risk management. To your wife, call it food on the table management.

Have fun

A question for NASA (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643472)

Has anyone at NASA tried contacting their local truck loving redneck to see if they could get it unstuck? You know, right before abandoning their multi-million dollar rover, just let their local mud loving red neck (with years of experience offroad) go to work and see what they can do. Once the engineers have given up, I can't see the harm, and there's that given chance that they can get it out.

Re:A question for NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30643816)

Has anyone at NASA tried contacting their local truck loving redneck to see if they could get it unstuck?

Some NASA engineers are simply extraordinarily smart truck loving rednecks. They've tried.

Spirit to NASA (2, Funny)

roots0 (909343) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643558)

“There are levels of survival we are willing to accept.”

Stuck in the Sand? (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643586)

"This is the end of the road, Galvatron!"

Fucking Rodimus.
That's Spirit, not Galvatron.
Even with the Matrix you're still a fuckup.

Is there not 2 of them? (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643668)

Correct me if I am wrong, I probably am, but I thought there were 2 of these rovers, could the other not lend a hand to get the first out of the mud/sand, or wipe off his panels for him???

Re:Is there not 2 of them? (1)

Titoxd (1116095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30643918)

It's on the other side of the planet. It would probably take a sizable portion of our lifetimes to drive Opportunity all the way to Spirit's location (assuming that is even possible due to topographical obstructions).

Re:Is there not 2 of them? (1)

LMacG (118321) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644104)

Yes, there are two of them. They landed on opposite sides of the planet, so it's not like Spirit can just yell across the canyon to his buddy. In fact, Opportunity has travelled less than 12 miles in the six years it's been there.

Send more! (2, Insightful)

J05H (5625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30644018)

These rovers are a very mature design that has worked flawlessly. Build and send a dozen of them.

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