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NASA's Next Mars Rover

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the would-do-well-on-battlebots-too dept.

Mars 104

An anonymous reader writes "In August 2012, the NASA rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down on the surface of Mars. The size of a small car, it's four times as heavy as predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, and comes with a large robot arm, a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill and a weather station. Oh, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238. Wired has some high-resolution photographs from lab that is putting the next rover together." Curiosity's destination on Mars has reportedly been chosen: Gale Crater. The 150-kilometer wide depression 'includes a tantalizing 5-kilometer-high mound of ancient sediments, [and] may have once been flooded by water.' The Planetary Society blog has a couple of additional pictures and a time-lapse video of the delicate, lengthy process of preparing the lander for transport. Curiosity will launch near the end of 2011. No cats were harmed during its construction.

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So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656406)

I'd figure he'd be out campaigning against the RTGs with plutonium in them.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656460)

I'm glad somebody besides me remembers Kaku's graduate-level derp [lovearth.org] campaign. Hopefully his restless-knee syndrome has improved since then, or at least his statistics and risk-assessment skills have.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (2)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656782)

Thanks for the link. It's got to be the only time on record - ever - really EVER - where Michio Kaku has said something completely and utterly forehead-smackingly, drool-inducingly ridiculous, laughably scientifically dishonest and hyperbolically absurd. Usually every word that comes out of his mouth is so balanced, well-informed, rigorously thought-out, carefully argued, and of course, completely and utterly plausible.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (3, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656874)

Heh, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, because I haven't followed his work since the Cassini episode. But before that, he actually was a decent science writer, someone who could bring leading-edge physics down the mountain and talk intelligently to the people who are asked to fund it.

That's why I was so disillusioned when he went off the deep end. Science desperately needs good communicators like Kaku... and it needs them to not go full retard.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657146)

You're not sure if I'm being sarcastic or not? Really?

Kaku is a hack and an attention whore. He'll say anything if it gets him more screen time.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36660274)

Michio Kaku is to physics what Dr. Drew is to the medical profession.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 3 years ago | (#36661992)

I have respect for Dr. Drew. He created a completely new format for helping people. They were comfortable calling a late night radio show anonymously but were embarrassed to see a doctor.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657224)

I emailed him the morning Cassini launched and asked what next, he said he was going to keep fighting the fight against RTGs in space.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657248)

I emailed him the morning Cassini launched and asked what next, he said he was going to keep fighting the fight against RTGs in space.

Good for him! Every RTG in space is another one that isn't being used to power something vital here on Earth.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657610)

Well, Kaku claims a lot of things that he's done even though he just helped minor things if that like how he claims he helped with string theory when he helped his professor back in college with some stuff. These days he goes on science channel an flaunts his dick around claiming this and that and creating poor concepts of the future. He's a laughing stock but is capable of presenting himself well. The question I pose for NASA is, why Mars? Why not the moon? Have we explored the moon enough? Isn't the moon our next objective or had they decided on Mars? I believe that we should focus on where we need to go next and reasons why.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657988)

I'll give Kaku a bit more credit on the string theory area. He did work on string field theory, and was an author on one of the first papers on it. That's real.

Then again, I'm something of a string theory skeptic. And when some media type mistakenly says that Kaku started string theory, Nambu, Nielsen and Susskind et al have to be giggling and rolling their eyes.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656618)

He's moved on to hosting crappy shows on cable TV. Whatever keeps his face in front of a camera, I guess....

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (2)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657894)

Something people seem to misunderstand about this is that the concern is that rockets are known to fail at launch. It's a *huge* failure point. The consequences of such an event shouldn't be ignored.

Statistically, the radiation risk seems below the threshold of concern, but it's not distributed like one would think. With plutonium especially, it only takes a very small amount to be breathed in or ingested to essentially guarantee cancer. If it were to pass through the body completely, it wouldn't be a big deal (this is where it looks statistically negligible), but if it stays in the body it will sit there emitting gamma rays and alpha particles throughout the rest of your life.

This is also the major problem with (for example) Fukushima. There are other radioactive isotopes which are much more dangerous over the short term, but they don't last as long (which is primarily why they are more dangerous), but something like plutonium or uranium lasts a very long time, and provides a low but constant dose.

Fortunately, RTGs tend to be well protected (at least, I'm led to believe), but unfortunately, rockets can explode quite impressively, and somethings shit just happens. Also, some missions (although not generally for Mars) involve multiple Earth flybys. This increases the risks.

Engineers *LOVE* to get all worked in promoting nuclear power. That's because, from an engineering point of view, it's fucking fantastic. It's *AMAZINGLY* fantastic. But the problem isn't with the theory, it's with the practice. You can design yourself the best reactor, with all the safeguards, then an earthquake and a fucking tsunami ("which nobody could expect", it's claimed after the fact, even though this is on the coast of Japan), or a test goes awry and multiple points of human error happen in Chernobyl, which "isn't the fault of the reactor or the technology", even though somehow it still happened.

The point being, even if you are the best engineer in the world, and you manage to build a rock-solid device (and, seriously, what kind of ego do you have to have to think you've built a fail-proof reactor?), you can't account for the rocket engineers not realizing the o-rings become brittle as the temperature cools, or the guidance engineers are working in metric and the thruster engineers are working in imperial, or any of a billion other little things that can lead to the failure of your "perfect" design. Failure that is not your fault, sure, but failure none the less.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (2, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658146)

The consequences of such an event shouldn't be ignored.

And they weren't. End of story.

Everything else you wrote is either wrong or completely irrelevant. There are no lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima that can be applied to RTGs, and no analogies between them can be drawn except for ones comparing apples with spoons.

RTGs don't work even remotely like a nuclear reactor of any type, well-engineered, poorly-engineered, or otherwise. It's not clear that plutonium is as dangerous [state.co.us] as people have been told it is. In particular, there seems to be no scientific backing for the usual claim that a single inhaled particle is 'guaranteed' to cause cancer. RTGs containing various radioisotopes have been damaged in accidents before with no apocalyptic consequences [iaea.org] ,.

When you build an RTG you use such a small amount of radioactive material that it's feasible to encapsulate it in a manner that renders it reasonably safe under any reasonably conceivable failure conditions. (Launch-pad explosions are not all that violent, frankly -- Kaku's major concern with Cassini was the Earth flyby, where a miscalculation would have exposed the RTG to much greater heat and higher mechanical stress.)

The launch will probably be successful, and if it's not, it's very unlikely that anyone will die from plutonium exposure as a result. Those are the only guarantees you'll get from any honest engineer. They're good enough for me, they're good enough for you, and they're good enough for the good Dr. Kaku.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (2)

node 3 (115640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658272)

The consequences of such an event shouldn't be ignored.

And they weren't. End of story.

No, *not* end of story. They still launch RTGs, in spite of the real risks involved. They didn't "ignore" the risks completely (they did shield the reactors), but they still went ahead with these launches, even though there are risks involved.

Everything else you wrote is either wrong or completely irrelevant. There are no lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima that can be applied to RTGs, and no analogies between them can be drawn except for ones comparing apples with spoons.

The lessons are that you can't engineer away disaster. Not a single thing ever invented is disaster-proof (in fact, there have been some notable "disaster-proof" inventions famously succumbing to disaster. Raise your hand if you can name two). Nuclear reactors are apt examples because they involve severe effects when things go wrong. Fukushima and Chernobyl suffered meltdowns. Something which RTGs cannot do, but they dispersed radioactive material (*especially* Fukushima), which RTGs very much can do.

RTGs don't work even remotely like a nuclear reactor of any type, well-engineered, poorly-engineered, or otherwise.

First off, that's absolutely false. They *are* nuclear reactors. However, I'll cut you some slack on that and assume you meant that they aren't similar in danger to traditional large-scale nuclear power plants. This is true, but I've never claimed otherwise.

It's not clear that plutonium is as dangerous [state.co.us] as people have been told it is. In particular, there seems to be no scientific backing for the usual claim that a single inhaled particle is 'guaranteed' to cause cancer.

No one claimed a "single particle" would guarantee cancer. And the link you posted made the case that plutonium is very dangerous. Did you not read it first?

RTGs containing various radioisotopes have been damaged in accidents before with no apocalyptic consequences [iaea.org] ,.

No one is claiming "apocalyptic consequences". Speaking for myself alone, I'm talking about completely innocent bystanders being killed as a consequence of disaster, without being aware of any impact, decades later.

At least with most disasters, you know when you are at risk, the disaster is localized, and when it's over, it's over. Nuclear disasters have the distinction of not being so forthcoming with the aftermath.

When you build an RTG you use such a small amount of radioactive material that it's feasible to encapsulate it in a manner that renders it reasonably safe under any reasonably conceivable failure conditions. (Launch-pad explosions are not all that violent, frankly -- Kaku's major concern with Cassini was the Earth flyby, where a miscalculation would have exposed the RTG to much greater heat and higher mechanical stress.)

I'm not talking about "reasonably conceivable failure conditions". It's not the things you've planned for, it's the things you *didn't* plan for (which is why I brought up Fukushima and Chernobyl. Both were engineered for reasonable expectations, but they still failed because not everything that happens is reasonable).

The launch will probably be successful, and if it's not, it's very unlikely that anyone will die from plutonium exposure as a result. Those are the only guarantees you'll get from any honest engineer. They're good enough for me, they're good enough for you, and they're good enough for the good Dr. Kaku.

Who are you to speak for others? They may be good enough for you, but you have no business speaking on behalf of others.

I'm not saying that I'm particularly concerned about RTGs in general. I'm just trying to show that concern is reasonable. Engineer-types tend to mischaracterize anyone who dares question the safety of nuclear systems as some sort of crazy person.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36658554)

The consequences of such an event shouldn't be ignored.

And they weren't. End of story.

No, *not* end of story. They still launch RTGs, in spite of the real risks involved. They didn't "ignore" the risks completely (they did shield the reactors), but they still went ahead with these launches, even though there are risks involved.

Yes, end of story! Read up on RTG, start with the wikipedia article, especially the part about when a rocket blev up on the launch pad and the RTG was thrown in a nice parabola into the ocean. There was no leakage, it survived and it was reused on a later flight. Since the amount of plutonium in them is really small, they can be engineered *really* sturdy, and they are. They are designed to survive a launch pad explosion and every other possible disaster. Oh, and please stop using the word "reactor", they're not reactors.

Everything else you wrote is either wrong or completely irrelevant. There are no lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima that can be applied to RTGs, and no analogies between them can be drawn except for ones comparing apples with spoons.

The lessons are that you can't engineer away disaster. Not a single thing ever invented is disaster-proof (in fact, there have been some notable "disaster-proof" inventions famously succumbing to disaster. Raise your hand if you can name two). Nuclear reactors are apt examples because they involve severe effects when things go wrong. Fukushima and Chernobyl suffered meltdowns. Something which RTGs cannot do, but they dispersed radioactive material (*especially* Fukushima), which RTGs very much can do.

Of course you can engineer away disaster! We do it all the time. The problem is that you have to draw the line somewhere, but since RTGs are small and light-weight, they're much easier to design to be fail safe.

RTGs don't work even remotely like a nuclear reactor of any type, well-engineered, poorly-engineered, or otherwise.

First off, that's absolutely false. They *are* nuclear reactors. However, I'll cut you some slack on that and assume you meant that they aren't similar in danger to traditional large-scale nuclear power plants. This is true, but I've never claimed otherwise.

No, they're NOT nuclear reactors. If that were true, a smoke detector would qualify as a nuclear reactor. They contain a chunk of radioactive material that just sits there, safely encased. The decay heat is then used for generating electricity. Quoting wikipedia: "A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction". Go read up on nuclear physics.

It's not clear that plutonium is as dangerous [state.co.us] as people have been told it is. In particular, there seems to be no scientific backing for the usual claim that a single inhaled particle is 'guaranteed' to cause cancer.

No one claimed a "single particle" would guarantee cancer. And the link you posted made the case that plutonium is very dangerous. Did you not read it first?

RTGs containing various radioisotopes have been damaged in accidents before with no apocalyptic consequences [iaea.org] ,.

No one is claiming "apocalyptic consequences". Speaking for myself alone, I'm talking about completely innocent bystanders being killed as a consequence of disaster, without being aware of any impact, decades later.

At least with most disasters, you know when you are at risk, the disaster is localized, and when it's over, it's over. Nuclear disasters have the distinction of not being so forthcoming with the aftermath.

When you build an RTG you use such a small amount of radioactive material that it's feasible to encapsulate it in a manner that renders it reasonably safe under any reasonably conceivable failure conditions. (Launch-pad explosions are not all that violent, frankly -- Kaku's major concern with Cassini was the Earth flyby, where a miscalculation would have exposed the RTG to much greater heat and higher mechanical stress.)

I'm not talking about "reasonably conceivable failure conditions". It's not the things you've planned for, it's the things you *didn't* plan for (which is why I brought up Fukushima and Chernobyl. Both were engineered for reasonable expectations, but they still failed because not everything that happens is reasonable).

Bringing up civilian power reactors into this is completely irrelevant, but anyway: Neither Chernobyl nor Fukushima was designed to reasonable expectations. Chernobyl was an *awful* design safety-wise because it was designed to produce a lot of plutonium as cheap as possible. Combine that with the really bad safety culture and you get an accident. Fukushima is another story, but you can't say that it was safely designed, the GE Mark I is about the unsafest western style nuclear reactor out there (since it was designed before we actually had much experience designing such things).

The launch will probably be successful, and if it's not, it's very unlikely that anyone will die from plutonium exposure as a result. Those are the only guarantees you'll get from any honest engineer. They're good enough for me, they're good enough for you, and they're good enough for the good Dr. Kaku.

Who are you to speak for others? They may be good enough for you, but you have no business speaking on behalf of others.

I'm not saying that I'm particularly concerned about RTGs in general. I'm just trying to show that concern is reasonable. Engineer-types tend to mischaracterize anyone who dares question the safety of nuclear systems as some sort of crazy person.

"Crazy person" is such a strong word, I would prefer "ignorant". Please read up on RTGs and basic nuclear physics, it's a good starting point. If you don't, then you'd better trust those who actually have.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

bertok (226922) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658688)

No, *not* end of story. They still launch RTGs, in spite of the real risks involved. They didn't "ignore" the risks completely (they did shield the reactors), but they still went ahead with these launches, even though there are risks involved.

Of course they did, because at the cutting edge of engineering and human achievement nothing is risk free. Asking people to stop doing risky things is just stupid, because it's not going to happen. There's an acceptable level of risk, and everybody with any common sense accepts it, because the benefits are worth it.

Harping on about a 1 in 10^20 chance that you'll personally die from some rocket launch is simply insane, because you have something like a 1 in 10^8 chance of being killed every time you drive to the shops, and you have no problem with that!

People are shockingly bad at judging risk due to their emotions, perceived level of control, and their past experiences. Driving drunk? Sure, I made it home last time with no problems! Nuclear power on a space probe? How dare they risk my life!

Open a damned wiki page once in while, and learn about the long list of people who died [wikipedia.org] from plain old non-nuclear chemical reactions in the space industry. It's not like the deaths are restricted to aerospace engineers and astronauts, civilians have been killed in their homes: Intelsat 708 [wikipedia.org] killed 6 and injured dozens. Should we stop all spaceflight so that never happens again? Really?

I'm just trying to show that concern is reasonable. Engineer-types tend to mischaracterize anyone who dares question the safety of nuclear systems as some sort of crazy person.

But that's just the thing -- your concerns are not reasonable, because the probabilities say that the risk is negligible compared to the benefits. Ignoring the maths and engineering and concentrating on your personal misgivings is not reasonable, it's irrational.

...but you have no business speaking on behalf of others.

That works both ways: you have no business speaking on my behalf to restrict the technologies that can be applied to advance our understanding of the universe.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36662548)

"First off, that's absolutely false. They *are* nuclear reactors. However, I'll cut you some slack on that and assume you meant that they aren't similar in danger to traditional large-scale nuclear power plants. This is true, but I've never claimed otherwise."

Second off, you are completely wrong. RTG's are *NOT* nuclear reactors. They are passive devices that rely on heat generated by the decay of Pu-238 to generate electricity (via thermocouple). There is no nuclear chain reaction involved in their operation.

The US hasn't put a nuclear reactor into space (SNAP-10A) since 1965, the Russian's haven't since 1988 (TOPAZ and the last nuclear powered RORSAT).

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (2)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36663088)

First off, that's absolutely false. They *are* nuclear reactors. However, I'll cut you some slack on that and assume you meant that they aren't similar in danger to traditional large-scale nuclear power plants. This is true, but I've never claimed otherwise.\

I am pretty sure you have no idea what the hell you are talking about at this point. RTG's are not nuclear reactors. They use the excess heat shed by nuclear material to drive an electric current through semi-conductive materials. There is no nuclear reaction being sustained, they simply use the natural half-life of the material contained within them to provide energy. That's all. For more details please read Chapter 6, section 4.2.1 of Vincent L. Pisacane's Fundamentals of Space Systems, Edition II, aptly titled, "RTG Description," before commenting further on this topic.

That source gives a nice, compoenent-level description of how RTG's work. Until you have that basic knowledge, you really aren't qualified to be commenting on this topic in any authority. Thank you for your opinions, however.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36663160)

Also, sorry for the typos. I am still working on this morning's coffee.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 3 years ago | (#36660474)

RTGs have been involved in multiple launch failures without any breach of radioactivity, ever. Generally they're fished out of the ocean (or tundra), dusted off, get new connectors soldered on, and are re-used.

Even if the unprecedented occurs (shit happens) and one breaks open there still is no public health issue. The plutonium in the RTG is a chunk of metal, and you'd have to be a pretty determined individual to manage to ingest it. I suppose you could pick it up and swallow it and thereby die, but if you did that you were already well on your way to winning a Darwin Award and I wouldn't feel very sorry for you. There is no mechanism by which it would be pulverized and spread on the wind for people to inhale it, no matter what Kaku and Helen Caldicott say.

I may be asking for some flame, but Kaku, Caldicott and their peers are not stupid people. There is no possible way that they could **NOT** know that the garbage they're spouting is anything but out-and-out lies. Neither one is getting rich off their projects, so it has to be the public adoration that they're looking for.

Re:So where's Michio Kaku? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36662952)

You should probably look up the failure/success rate of the Atlas V rocket (the actual launch vehicle that will be carrying MSL) before you go off on some sort of rant about how dangerous rockets are.

From one point of view, you are right: rockets, in general, are complex, chaotic, dangerous machines.

From another point of view, (the one that I would say is most applicable) your explanation is nearly pointless. The Atlas V vehicle has a nearly spotless track record. The few failures that did occur were at the very beginning of its operation cycle. In the last ten years or so, the Atlas V success rate is something absurdly high, as in nearly 100% successful. So, for this particular spacecraft, your point is moot.

Current American launch vehicle providers may not provide the cheapest ride to space, but you can bet your bollocks on a barn dance that they certainly provide the safest ride to space (Orbital Space Systems small-class launch vehicles being a bit of an exception to this rule).

And just to get a shameless self-plug in here, I go into some detail about this in my blog where I dicuss the merits and drawbacks of various active launchers in the space industry here. [weebly.com]

First post! (0)

TheInternetGuy (2006682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656410)

Isn't it annoying when people do first posts without anything real to say? Well, my karma can't get any worse I guess.

Re:First post! (0)

TheInternetGuy (2006682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656494)

Arrgh! Couldn't even get first post, Just mod me down, I deserve it.

Oh, goody! (5, Funny)

mrsam (12205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656420)

Oh, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238

Oh goody! My explosive space modulator has finally been delivered! Now I can blow up Mars. Because it's obstructing my view of Jupiter!

Re:Oh, goody! (0, Offtopic)

astar (203020) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656548)

silly bunny: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium-238 [wikipedia.org]
this emits alpha particles. hard to make something explosive I figure. Do you figure at all? Probably much too much.

Here is a little background of general interest. http://www.satnews.com/cgi-bin/story.cgi?number=598732652 [satnews.com]
Figure we are out of the 238 and I suppose the way things are, we might never have any more. Another way to shut down the space program.? But the slug is from a year ago. So, you tell me, is the supply situation any better? If not, maybe you should look around for some patterns to get a handle on this sort of thing.

Re:Oh, goody! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656622)

Whoosh!

Re:Oh, goody! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657142)

There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering whoosh!

Re:Oh, goody! (2)

dlb (17444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656558)

Where's the kaboom?

Re:Oh, goody! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656606)

Where's the kaboom?

No boom today. Boom tomorrow.

Re:Oh, goody! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36662554)

Jamie wants big boom.

WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (5, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656672)

The Council of Elders has confirmed an alarming increase in threatening chatter originating from the blue world.

K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders, addressed the planet thus:

AT LAST, the denizens of the blue planet expose their true intentions! No mere "explorers", these foul robotic beings. Despite their deceptive code names, these invaders from the blue world are no innocent space-mariners; they're Vikings! All they seek is an opportunity to wipe not only us from the world, but the spirit of our world itself from the solar system.

I have in my tentacle one particularly threatening communications intercept; hear the enemy in their own words.

Oh goody! My explosive space modulator has finally been delivered! Now I can blow up Mars. Because it's obstructing my view of Jupiter!

Despite what you may have heard from certain circles of subversives, their own words betray them. They are not just here for the sake of curiosity!

K'Breel went on to confirm reports that the expected invader would indeed by powered by an advanced Pew-238 power source to extend its range and lifespan, K'Breel reminded all citizens that its expected capabilities would still be vastly inferior compared to their own recreational vehicles: "Our hot rods get a million klorbs to the frelpor; the blue planet ain't just across a minor tributary from Valles Marineris!"

When a junior intelligence analyst suggested that the intercepted transmission in question was merely referring to an animated cartoon that was more than thirty years old, there was a gelsac-shattering kaboom. (It was described as "lovely".)

A small robot dutifully removed the dust from the remains of the Speaker's disintegrating pistol and performed a short piece of traditional music while the Speaker exited the stage via an iris-shaped door after concluding his address with a brief "That is all, citizens."

Re:WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (2)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656728)

K'Breel, Speaker for the Council of Elders

Why do aliens have to have such silly names. Why can't they just be called Colin or Tim or something.

Re:WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656748)

Why do earthlings have such silly names. Why cant they just be called Mgbutu or G'thers or something?

Re:WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 3 years ago | (#36659274)

Why do you insist on swearing ?

Re:WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (5, Funny)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656912)

Why do aliens have to have such silly names. Why can't they just be called Colin or Tim or something.

"Tim" is impossible to pronounce with pseudopods and a lenticular diaphram. ("Colin", OTOH, is pronounceable, but it translates to "fetid corpse of ancestor", so it's not a popular name)

Re:WARNING! Late-breaking news from the Council! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36658260)

It is wonderful!
Thanks [imgolfchina.com] for you!

Re:Oh, goody! (1)

Snufu (1049644) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657538)

NASA better keep a close eye on Curiosity's space modulator. Lapin earthlings have a tendency to steal them, which can cause "delays...delays".

No cats were harmed during its construction... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656428)

... but the parrot is dead.

Re:No cats were harmed during its construction... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656626)

also, Dr. Evil's shark has a headache from the hasty removal of his laser.

Their confidence is overwhelming (3, Funny)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656476)

From #4:

"If it works, it will be spectacular,"

If it doesn't , it will probably be more so, but we won't see it.

Re:Their confidence is overwhelming (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657120)

Ugh. God help us if someone is nervous about making a machine, sticking it on a fucking rocket, sending it another god damn planet, landing right side up, and being honest about their worries over it all.

BEING HAPPY, OPTIMISTIC, AND 100% SURE ALL THE TIME MEANS YOU'RE DRUGGED OR MENTALLY ILL. Or both.

Seriously, be human. Accept all ranges of emotion from yourself and from others. Accept the potential of failure.

Note that I didn't say accept failure.

...the 687 Earth days it spends on Mars... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656482)

Is it making it's own way back home?

Space Age Technology! (3, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656486)

...a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven meters...

I soooo want this on my car.

Re:Space Age Technology! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656498)

I soooo want this on my car.

I think they've been watching 'Captain Scarlet' :).

Re:Space Age Technology! (0)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656500)

Screw cars, I want this on my frickin' shark.

Re:Space Age Technology! (1)

Opyros (1153335) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656714)

You'll shoot your eye out...

Re:Space Age Technology! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657890)

No you don't; you'd have to smell the fat bastard drivers you target.

Re:Space Age Technology! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657990)

Sounds like Moon Patrol http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Patrol (six wheels, laser that destroys rocks at short range... can it jump)?

Rendering all other shark jokes redundant (2, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656492)

"...a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven meters..."

Everybody making a hilarious post about sharks can press ALT+F4 to skip the 20 second limit!

Re:Rendering all other shark jokes redundant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657360)

Weird... that made the browser window disappear. Alt+F1 brought it back. Perhaps it has something to do with my current window manager?

Besides, now we can get that laser mounted on the shark and it can now vapourize anything 7 meters in front of it.

Re:Rendering all other shark jokes redundant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36659096)

"...a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven meters..."

Everybody making a hilarious post about sharks can press ALT+F4 to skip the 20 second limit!

A comment referencing nuclear-powered MALPs is far more fitting.

Re:Rendering all other shark jokes redundant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36663474)

Fuck you, asshole.

Classic comment (1)

cjjjer (530715) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656496)

This from one of the captions from an image (in bold).

As the retro rockets control the landing speed, the descent stage will unspool tethers to lower the rover's wheels on to the surface. "If it works, it will be spectacular," says Grotzinger.

"If" it works, glad they have such confidence in what they are doing...

Re:Classic comment (4, Insightful)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656536)

Mars eats orbiters for lunch and landers for dinner, unfortunately. It's called "rocket science" for a reason. If we limited our efforts to sure-fire bets, we'd still be squinting through telescopes and wondering who dug the canals.

I'm confident that if anyone can pull off a project this ambitious, the JPL folks can. If they fail, I'll be happy with raising my taxes by the $1.50/year it will cost to try again.

Re:Classic comment (5, Interesting)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656848)

As an engineer, that skycrane contraption sets off my alarms of being an extremely complicated and scary solution. It lacks the simplicity of earlier landers with a sequence of chutes, retro rockets, and airbag expansions. Though still being single point failures, they were not actively controlled and could use simple backup timers to make sure everything deployed if at all possible. (Full disclosure: I'm a JPL engineer, but not in EDL and not working on MSL, and of course my opinions are purely my own).

Of course for a mobile vehicle that large, I can't think of a better solution that could fit on a launch vehicle, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Given that, though, if it fails, i doubt it would be resurrected. MSL already has a bad track record of delays and problems, and a reputation as a money sink (though not as bad as JWST). Also, I have a bias towards more smaller and cheaper missions (and as a deep space navigator, rovers are quite dull for me professionally) so I would actually rather have the money spent on more New Frontiers and Discovery class missions.

Re:Classic comment (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657238)

Yea, but the tax payers like the pictures and the rovers.

9 years to Pluto doesn't really have the same thrill as "It'll be on Mars next year!"

Re:Classic comment (3, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657276)

My understanding (slight as that may be) is that the vehicle is too heavy to land by parachute in the thin Martian atmosphere.

BTW, what did you think of the DIRECT architecture?

Re:Classic comment (3, Interesting)

Dr. Scatterplot (1371103) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657342)

Yeah, I get butterflies thinking about this thing landing. I'm told that the skycrane has been tested extensively on Earth and the engineers involved are not any more worried about that than about the chain of other more mundane things that can go wrong between launch and instrument check-out in situ. As to previous elegant solutions, I think I would have been just as antsy about the beach-ball landing scheme of the MER had I been in the biz back then (disclosure: I'm a scientist at JPL).

Re:Classic comment (0)

cthulhu11 (842924) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658112)

Got any more obscure acronyms to add to make this post even less readable?

Re:Classic comment (3, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657148)

"I'll be happy with raising my taxes by the $1.50/year it will cost to try again."

So would I. Unfortunately they're going to cut our taxes by $1.50 and spend the money anyway.

Re:Classic comment (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656582)

Well right now they'd be wise to lower expectations quite a bit. The previous rovers performed off the charts, this one might just perform to spec or worse. I'm guessing that as usually there's a long, long list of "never been done before" and you can only go so far in simulation. It's not really tested until it's tried.

Re:Classic comment (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656670)

I'd bet they learned a lot about what the rovers did right last time around, and made it better this time. You'll notice they made it bigger which will let hit handle rougher terrain, and they switched the solar power supply to nuclear, which will give it power and some degree of extra heating.

Assuming it survives landing I'm sure it will be great.

Re:Classic comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656744)

When you're being flown across the Pacific Ocean in a Boeing 747 airliner, do you want the pilots to be thinking that everything will go smoothly as planned, or do you want them to prepare for unlikely predicaments?

Blind confidence is usually a sign that the person is incompetent.

Re:Classic comment (2)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657584)

I don't mind pilots assuming things will go smoothly. I definitely don't want those pilots to be dreaming up various failure scenarios or troubleshooting damaged indicator lamps to the point that they forget to fly the aircraft. If there is an issue they should function more or less automatically because they've done the whole "What if" business do death in the simulators.

I get your point though, blind confidence works, just until it doesn't, though in some occupations this kind of arrogance can also be beneficial.

forget cats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656506)

They could've doubled their network news coverage by naming the new rover "Woof".

I haven't logged onto nasaspaceflight.com for a while, maybe this is already a sore point...

No Cats (4, Funny)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656522)

"no cats were harmed during its construction".

Well of course not. That would obviously come after activation. Good thing they are planning to send the malevolent entity to a feline-free Mars.

Re:No Cats (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656574)

They didn't mention puppies at all.

Re:No Cats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656628)

Curiosity doesn't kill puppies. Curiosity kills cats.

Re:No Cats (1)

aurizon (122550) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656726)

Sadly, Six cats are used as parts of the foot(Paw) control mechanism, since feedback from Earth would be too slow to enable the needed precision. While every step has been taken to keep these cats happy and well fed, there are no provisions for these cats to be repatriated Earth...

You forgot the other reason (3, Funny)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657174)

Sadly, Six cats are used as parts of the foot(Paw) control mechanism, since feedback from Earth would be too slow to enable the needed precision.

Not to mention it's the only way to ensure it lands upright!

While every step has been taken to keep these cats happy and well fed, there are no provisions for these cats to be repatriated Earth...

Believe me, when they see how much sand is there it will be just fine with them. Imagine a whole world, where you could pee as much as you like with no-one to complain.

Re:You forgot the other reason (1)

aurizon (122550) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657242)

yes, the self righting aspect of the cats is critical, how could I have forgotten after reading the buttered toast paper...

Re:No Cats (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657560)

Cats have always been important to science. When you make a cation molecule with radioactive atoms, you effectively have 4.5 half lives.

Re:No Cats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657776)

Thats more half-lifes than we've gotten from Valve.

Re:No Cats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36659852)

"no cats were harmed during its construction".

That must have been tricky; we ritually harm cats on the hour here. Not to mention the cult of our evil twins; they pervert the proper harming of cats by performing there rituals in the middle of every hour! Shame on them.

Remember Grovers Mill 1938! (1)

patsw (254833) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656566)

"War of the Worlds"? It's payback time!

Gotta look cool too (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#36656596)

They need to paint that thing to look like a shark: Mars shark, with a fricking laserbeam

Does it run Linux? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656730)

Does it run Linux?

Re:Does it run Linux? (4, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657246)

Re:Does it run Linux? (1)

flex941 (521675) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657756)

Like Linksys evercrashing routers.

Re:Does it run Linux? (2)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658796)

The single board computer has an IBM RAD750 costing over $200,000. It does have amazing specs:

The CPU itself can withstand 2,000 to 10,000 gray and temperature ranges between –55 C and 125 C and requires 5 watts of power. The standard RAD750 single-board system (CPU and motherboard) can withstand 1,000 gray and temperature ranges between –55 C and 70 C and requires 10 watts of power.

The RAD750 system has a price that is comparable to the RAD6000 which is US$200,000 per board.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAD750 [wikipedia.org]

Not exactly something you pick up at Fry's or NewEgg.

Re:Does it run Linux? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36663254)

Not exactly something you pick up at Fry's or NewEgg....unfortunately

FTFY.

Re:Does it run Linux? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36664458)

FYI folks. Gray is a unit of measure relating to absorbing radiation. 1 gray is equivalent to 100 rads. (Rads are deprecated, being defined on the old centimetre-gram-second scale, whereas grays are defined on the current metre-kilogram-second scale.)

Ehhhh ... Dou suru desu ka yo (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36656754)

**//!!@@&&

Yatta yo.

Here we go again!

JPL will send data to NASA JSFC and KSC in System International i.e. mks (meters, kilograms, seconds).

But -Kuns at NASA JSFC and KSC only read fps (English, foot pound second).

Nan da te. Kotaiura yo.

You got IT.

Major Malfunction in the works for Curisoty with its Plutonium 238 core will hit Mars like an artillery shell.

Bye Bye Martian Life ... bio wa Shin da. Zen zen naru NASA-kun.

BI

Re:Ehhhh ... Dou suru desu ka yo (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36657824)

Shiney! I'm watching a Firefly episode as we speak.

Re:Ehhhh ... Dou suru desu ka yo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36658452)

that was japanese, not chinese...

Rover over Jupiter and Saturn's Moons Instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36657992)

How about rovering in Jupiter and Saturn's moons instead? I think it would be much more interesting and provide more science than dry old Mars.

Re:Rover over Jupiter and Saturn's Moons Instead (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 3 years ago | (#36663864)

HA! You have not been paying attention the CRISM data...the aqueous history of Mars is fascinating. As far as roving Europa, the challenges are huge and, ugh, we do not want to leave any hardware there. How do you propose powering a Europa rover without a RTG and have enough energy to lift off and escape?

life detection experiments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36658496)

From the NASA website:
> Its design includes a suite of scientific instruments for identifying organic compounds such as proteins, amino acids, and other acids and bases that attach themselves to carbon backbones and are essential to life as we know it.

Would those experiments detect the speculated peroxide-based life?

What is the worst thing that can happen... (1)

m4ktub (2333996) | more than 3 years ago | (#36658862)

Let's give it an arm, a powerful laser, drill, some plutonium, and some AI so that it can operate somewhat autonomously... 6 months later... "Accident hits NASA lab when Mars rover refuses to be sent to Mars alone". That might happen. Really!

Gale Crater? I hope not... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36659040)

I was really hoping for Ebserwalde Crater [wikipedia.org] , which has an awesome river delta system within it.

Save robotic space veterans, send R2D2 to Mars! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36659042)

In August 2012, the NASA rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down on the surface of Mars. The size of a small car, it's four times as heavy as predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, and comes with a large robot arm, a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill and a weather station. Oh, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238. Wired has some high-resolution photographs from lab that is putting the next rover together.

They beefed it up for the sequel. I guess it means Spirit and Opportunity were great commercial/PR success, resulting in rise of bureaucrats' goodwill. However, the mental stance of hungry explorers is lost and return on investment will probably be more modest this time. I wish they had more penny-pinching state of mind and thought of equipping Curiosity with means and programs to troubleshoot, repair, upgrade its two predecessors or at least cannibalize one of them to restore the another into working condition. That would empower the mission immensely: send one to have at least two operational exploration rovers! Engineering space equipment such as rovers for field-repairability and reuse is very cost effective way to save on launches.

Hope to see X-prize for "R2D2" soon!

usa 3rd world space program (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36660116)

I wish the illiterate morons in the USA the best in their quest of finding Adam and eve in space.

What's the computer like? (1)

TheTyrannyOfForcedRe (1186313) | more than 3 years ago | (#36660784)

Curiosity will sport two identical single board computers (SBC's) for redundancy. The CPU's are radiation hardened variants of the PowerPC 750 that run at 200mhz. The single board computers sport 256k of EEPROM, 256mb of DRAM, and 2gb of flash and draw 10 watts. They can withstand 1,000 gray and temperature ranges between –55C and 70C. The boards have been in production since 2001 and are already running on a number of other NASA projects.

It always amazes me that NASA gets by with 10 year old (or more!) computing tech on their projects. When you're in space radiation and temperature tolerance are what it's all about.

running out of Pu for space RTGs (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 3 years ago | (#36661172)

A representative of space probe manufacturer in Colorado said that commercial Pu is becoming scarce, i.e. not being refined in the like the dwindling tritium supplies. The 24 pounds of plutonium in the Pluto New Horzion's RTG would cost $50M in today's prices. That is significant cost factor for NASA. Next month's Juno probe launch to Jupiter uses monster (60 feet) solar panels for the first time, partly for cost/availability reasons. Solar energy at Jupiter is 1/16th of Earth or about the distance limit.

late with huge cost overruns (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 3 years ago | (#36661280)

The early Mars mission were under Goldin's smaller-cheaper-faster program. Curiosity is 50% over budget and 26 months late. Much of this due to a new nuclear engine technology which could be useful for future probes. If it wasnt for the amazing resilency of Spirit (R.I.P.) and Opportunity, NASA would have had a major gap in it surface Mars program. Along with the Webb Telescope cost overruns, NASA is cutting its 2010s probe plans about in half what was earlier expected. And this before the anticipated Tea Party cuts.

6 times (1)

dradler (627109) | more than 3 years ago | (#36661616)

Actually MSL is about six times the mass of an MER rover.

Beware the EDL (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 3 years ago | (#36661910)

The Entry, Descent, and Landing phase are the part of the MSL technology that gets the least press but is the most critical for mission success, obviously. Unfortunately MSL is too heavy for airbags so a convoluted new technology had to be invented. The landing will be white-knuckled all the way...

Sky Crane? Sounds Overly Complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36663326)

While I hope it gets to the surface safely, I have a hard time believing that it will with such a complicated landing system. Come on!, a rover dangling from a 7.5 meter cable hooked to a thruster assembly? I realize that the old air bag concept wasn't viable, but there are plenty of simpler and more reliable options. Off the top of my head I'd say put the rover in a lightly padded self righting petal assembly with the same thruster package attached directly to the top/sides of it, at 2 feet from the surface the thruster assembly separates from the self righting petal assembly and the decreased mass causes the thruster assembly to fly away. While I imagine this configuration would be slightly heavier (petal assembly) it does seem to take care of several of the dangers of the "sky crane" system (rocks, tipping, premature/late detatch, etc)

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