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Cutting Edge Tech Slated For Next Mars Rover

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the seems-like-a-good-place-to-start dept.

NASA 143

oxide7 writes "NASA is pushing the boundaries of technology as it readies its next mission to Mars, loading up its 4th Mars Rover with nearly a dozen instruments and deploying an innovative but risky landing procedure. Scientists and engineers were piecing together some of the final components to the new rover, dubbed Curiosity, on Saturday as it ramps up for a high-stakes launch in November."

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Curiosity? (1)

rockclimber (660746) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088332)

wonder if there is a cat at the landing site?

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088354)

Well if there was there is no longer.

Re:Curiosity? (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088572)

^^ Actually had to think of one of my favorite childhood shows before that cat came to mind:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM2QVLVX5mc [youtube.com]

Re:Curiosity? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092294)

And if so - is it named Pixel [wikipedia.org] ?

Innovative but risky? (1)

kmdrtako (1971832) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088350)

From TFA: Parachute, followed by retro-rockets, then lowered by a tether.

Yes, it's new. How do they measure how risky it is?

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088380)

Risky = untested, unknown.

If this method had a track record of success in some terrestrial application, then it would be new for a Mars mission, but would be perceived as less risky, because there would be less new science/design that would be required for it. Given that a rocket-powered skycrane has never been used over an extended period (at all?) in any terrestrial application, and that computer-controlled flying cranes are relatively new (anyone know of any deployed autonomous helicopter cranes?), it's fairly high risk because it's untested.

That said, I can't think of a better way to land something heavy on Mars either, not without loading the rover down with extra weight.

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088580)

Well, considering that Spirit and Opportunity use a Parachute-Retro-Tether-Airbag system and they did fine, I think the simpler Parachute-Retro-Tether system would be less risky.

Re:Innovative but risky? (2)

milkmage (795746) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089038)

I think they'd prefer to go with airbags, but it's too heavy. My car doesn't weigh half that.. imagine hanging 2 cars from a "sky crane" powered by retros.. as it speeds towards the ground at 1000 mph. if one of the retros fails or the tether snaps, it's game over. compare that with: inflate bags @ a reasonable altitude and hope you don't hit a sharp rock.

Spirit weighs 500 pounds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_rover [wikipedia.org]

Curiosity - FIVE TONS. "The five-ton mobile laboratory is slated to blast off onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket between Nov 25 and Dec.18, embarking on a nearly 9 month journey."

NASA nerds are so full of WIN! (no retros, but watch the drop test) http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/building_curiosity.html [nasa.gov]

Curiosity is the size of a truck.

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089738)

It's still 900X less risky than a full on Retrorocket landing like Viking.

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092450)

And still they did it.

With very slow computers and very little memory

Of course, if the Mars Atmosphere was thicker, they could have gone with a glider, parachute or something similar.

RTFA, for a chance to actually learn something.... (4, Interesting)

rts008 (812749) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089054)

They want to explore a crater, not make a new one.

NASA engineers and 'rocket scientists' have already determined that the 5 ton rover is too heavy for that method.

Re:RTFA, for a chance to actually learn something. (3, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#37091434)

They want to explore a crater, not make a new one.

NASA engineers and 'rocket scientists' have already determined that the 5 ton rover is too heavy for that method.

I think you misunderstand me. People fixate on Curiosity's skycrane, and think that it's new and overly complicated. It's not new. Everybody seems to forget that Spirit and Opportunity ALSO used a similar Parachute-Retrorocket-Tether system [youtube.com] . All they seem to remember is the airbag part of it. Spirit's and Opportunity's "skycranes" brought them to a hover in mid air and then cut them loose. They had to endure a drop equivalent to jumping off of a fourth floor balcony. This is why they needed the air bags.

In contrast, Curiosity's "skycrane" is going to lower it gently to the ground, not drop it from 50 feet in the air. There's much less risk involved with Curiosity's landing than Spirit's or Opportunity's. So, given that the MERs not only survived their riskier skycrane descent, and plummet to the ground, but thrived, odds are high that Curiosity will do the same.

Re:Innovative but risky? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089140)

Well, amount of points of failure times likeliness of failure. To get a feeling about the risk, that's enough.

And this here has a lot more steps, hence a lot more points of failure. Of which most are untested. So the likeliness is also high.

Simple.

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090174)

Well, amount of points of failure times likeliness of failure.

And consequences of failure. A failure which reduces the capability or extent of the mission to a degree is less serious than one that ends the mission at landing on Mars.

Re:Innovative but risky? (1)

PJ6 (1151747) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089978)

From TFA: Parachute, followed by retro-rockets, then lowered by a tether.

Yes, it's new. How do they measure how risky it is?

It's risky because it's overly complicated. The God of our race is named Murphy, and he has but one law.

I bet the flyer will sail off to "safely" ditch 3 miles away from the landing site, with the rover still attached.

What is the point? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088352)

That's a really advanced waste of money. Great huh.

Re:What is the point? (4, Insightful)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088482)

For about 1% of what the Iraq War costs us each year, it doesn't seem all that bad.

Re:What is the point? (0)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088514)

I love the argument that the man is spending money elsewhere so it needs to be spent here too, its so circular

Re:What is the point? (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088546)

That's not the argument. The argument is that it's just a negligible cost compared to other costs so if you want to save money you better start elsewhere.

Re:What is the point? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088960)

The argument is that it's just a negligible cost compared to other costs so if you want to save money you better start elsewhere.

I think we're aware of what the argument is, the other poster was just putting the argument in the proper perspective.

Re:What is the point? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088632)

The money is all spent here on earth. It goes for salaries, parts, labor, design, engineering, fuel. Those who get the money spend their earnings for groceries, gas, house payments, cars, shoes and junk food. Those suppliers do the same with there earnings. They hire lawn care "engineers" , painters, babysitters, oh, and they buy all of the above as well.

Somewhere along the line money gets to the burger flippers who could never understand economics 101, who post on Slashdot that everything they are not interested in is a waste of money.

 

Re:What is the point? (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088734)

I think the question is more one of "What do you get for the money you've spent?"
A war sends men and material overseas and generally fewer come back than you sent; you might gain some political or diplomatic advantage, and that has to be judged against the cost. Space research sends men and rockets into space and generally fewer come back than you sent; you might gain some technological or scientific knowledge, and that has to be judged against the cost.

Re:What is the point? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090042)

The money is all spent here on earth. It goes for salaries, parts, labor, design, engineering, fuel. Those who get the money spend their earnings for groceries, gas, house payments, cars, shoes and junk food. Those suppliers do the same with there earnings. They hire lawn care "engineers" , painters, babysitters, oh, and they buy all of the above as well.

Somewhere along the line money gets to the burger flippers who could never understand economics 101, who post on Slashdot that everything they are not interested in is a waste of money.

So why not just spend it all on me and cut out those middle men? I'll hire plenty of dudes so the employment angle is covered.

Re:What is the point? (0)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088986)

Well, that argument comes up because every single bloody time we spend some money on science, some dumb fuck inbred hick comes crawling out of the woods crying about how the ebil gubmint wastes the money it 'stole' from him by means of taxes. Oddly, the dumb fuck hicks never complain when said money is spent on wars against them ebil brown peoples.

Re:What is the point? (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089902)

I love the argument that the man is spending money elsewhere so it needs to be spent here too, its so circular

But that's not the argument, Osgeld.

With a mission to mars and these "cutting edge" technologies, there's at least a chance at something good, something really good coming out of it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not so much.

Plus, there's the possibility that frontiers give a people a useful goal besides getting rich and famous. Once Americans realized that there wasn't going to be any more "going West", there seemed to set in a sad narcissism that has manifested itself in some very self-destructive behavior, privately and publicly. Having a frontier again might not be such a bad thing. And since it only costs a fraction of what the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of human lives that are wasted - flushed down the crapper - for no reason beyond putting cash into the pockets of military contractors, having a Martian frontier, no matter how far off the benefits might be (but there will certainly be benefits) doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

When I think about buying some new tech that might be useful to me, sometimes it helps to put its expense into perspective. And that perspective is often obtained through comparison with other things I spend money on. Like a new iPad is about the same cost as 20 bottles of Bombay gin. Or a Kurzweil PC3LE7 76 Key Semi weighted action Performance Controller & Workstation Keyboard is about the same cost as a trip to Vegas (rehab and course of penicillin not included).

And in the future, I'd prefer if you didn't start a comment with "I love the argument..." when you clearly don't love the argument at all. It's not even good sarcasm, it just makes you sound small. Of course, you can do what you like, but I'm just putting you on notice that this is your first strike.

Re:What is the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088692)

I agree. There is no life and you'd be stuck at the bottom of a gravity well with no fuel. Pretty stupid position to put yourself in.

THE NEW PLAN:
1)Go to asteroids.
2)Move asteroids to orbit of Jupiter.
3)Build space elevator to atmosphere of Jupiter using asteroids for building material.
4)Pump hydrogen to storage facilities in orbit through pipelines installed in space elevator.
5)Go anywhere you want after that because you've got fuel.

Any questions?

Re:What is the point? (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088782)

2)Move asteroids to orbit of Jupiter.

Easy-peasey no problem!!!

3)Build space elevator to atmosphere of Jupiter using asteroids for building material.

Even easier!!

5)Go anywhere you want after that because you've got fuel.

Any questions?

Sure:
1) Where do you get all the dense mass to protect you from hard cosmic radiation?
2) How do you protect the elevator from all that crap whizzing around Jupiter?
3) What do you build the ship with?
4) How do you provision it, etc, etc, etc?

The Earth and Sun just do too much that we take for granted, and stellar distances are just too great to be practical.

Re:What is the point? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088898)

I appreciate your calmness in the face of so much Space Nuttery. As you have just seen, Space Nutters are off-the-rails delusional and insane. It's a mental illness to think that we have anywhere near the technology or resources to do anything remotely like the sci-fi fantasies. Just not going to happen. Ever.

I wish I had your calm. Space Nutters are by and large too mentally incompetent to be any real threat, but like shit flies at a picnic, they sure are annoying!

Re:What is the point? (2, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089766)

"1) Where do you get all the dense mass to protect you from hard cosmic radiation?
2) How do you protect the elevator from all that crap whizzing around Jupiter?
3) What do you build the ship with?
4) How do you provision it, etc, etc, etc?"

1 - Congress. It seems that the members of congress are so dense that grinding them up and using them as radiation shielding will work better than anything else we have here on the planet.

2 - pass laws making it illegal.... DUH

3 - Build it with illegal immigrants or outsource it's assembly to China or India.

4 - Provisioning is a long term plan, you obviousally dont have a degree in business management. All that matters is how things look next quarter.

Re:What is the point? (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090028)

Congress. It seems that the members of congress are so dense

I thought they were full of hot air...

Anyway, great post. +5 Insightful.

Re:What is the point? (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088790)

1 Ceres is pretty much made of rocket fuel, so you can skip those other steps.

Re:What is the point? (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089148)

Yes, what will the hydrogen react with? How could it be used as a fuel?

Cutting edge? Now, maybe. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088408)

Not so much when it gets there though, trips to Mars take a while.

Oh well, at least the opportunity comes across fairly often. When's the next window to launch a probe to the Outer Planets?

Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088414)

Who comes up with these names? These generic names that are alleged to be primary characteristics of the capitalist are just frickin' lame. Left out of the pool are Greed, Disparity, Externality, Exploitation... Can't we go back to using the names of famous astronomers, or other noteworthy scientists that have positively contributed to humanity's understanding of the universe? Even if their underlying motive for their accomplishment was in pursuit of financial self-interest that only had the side benefit of expanding our knowledge of the cosmos, at least, naming the spacecraft after them would be recognition and memorialization of their achievements.

Re:Curiosity? (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088582)

Who comes up with these names? These generic names that are alleged to be primary characteristics of the capitalist are just frickin' lame. Left out of the pool are Greed, Disparity, Externality, Exploitation...

In other words, "Ambition", "Incentive", "Sacrifice", and "Reciprocity". Beats "stupidity". And before you ask, I'd rather have a martian probe called "Exploitation" than one called "Reciprocity".

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088716)

Those are all lame. They're just a lame as say, using names which describe characteristics of socialism, statism, or whatever other example of political economy that you can come up with.

Re:Curiosity? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088904)

I dub your post "Equivocation". May it rove far.

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089050)

Here, have a taste of my polysemous spunk, bitch!

Re:Curiosity? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088688)

Mostly these names are suggested by school children.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Exploration_Rover#Naming_of_Spirit_and_Opportunity [wikipedia.org]

So, no, we are not going back to naming after astronomers. We've essentially run out of those.

But hey, carry on with YOUR major contribution to society, posting here on Slashdot.

Re:Curiosity? (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088878)

They'd have fewer funding problems if they named them after GOP Reps.

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37091242)

They'd have fewer funding problems if they named them after GOP Reps.

They should be named after me, Anonymous Coward. More appropriate and far better than any Teabagging [wikipedia.org] GOP reps.

Re:Curiosity? (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092460)

I think they should add an iPhone app with in-App purchase, so that the people of Kootol have to go to Mars to sue it

Re:Curiosity? (1)

milkmage (795746) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089058)

"But hey, carry on with YOUR major contribution to society, posting here on Slashdot."

and as Anonymous Coward nonetheless.

wish I had mod points for you, dude.

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089244)

I'm so glad for the encouragement, Sally. I began to wonder if my contributions were all for naught, but if someone of your ilk wants me to carry on, who am I to argue? ::smooches::, babe.

Re:Curiosity? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089242)

I notice the capitalists are leading mankind's exploration of space

Re:Curiosity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089632)

I notice the capitalists are leading mankind's exploration of space

The Russians are currently the only ones capable of supplying the ISS and have put robots on the moon and probes on Mars.

The Chinese are launching a Mars probe later this year.

NASA have sent probes out of the solar system, man to the moon and robots to Mars.

Some rich businessmen soon might get themselves into LEO.

Yep, the capitalist businessmen are way ahead.

Space Truckin' (1)

sysrammer (446839) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092426)

I notice the capitalists are leading mankind's exploration of space

"The Russians are currently the only ones capable of supplying the ISS and have put robots on the moon and probes on Mars."

Space Truckers. Gotta havem. Cut rate, too, yet with year's of experience.

"The Chinese are launching a Mars probe later this year."

Launch your own racist, political or sexual joke here.

"NASA have sent probes out of the solar system, man to the moon and robots to Mars."

Hard to argue with that.

"Some rich businessmen soon might get themselves into LEO."

Yep, let the rich ones subsidize it. Gets the money into circulation, gets the unit price down.

"Yep, the capitalist businessmen are way ahead."

Can't wait 'til the competition improves. The US needs something to charge it up.

sr

Why? (1)

Jay Tarbox (48535) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088438)

Why not deliver this rover the same way the other rovers were delivered?

Re:Why? (2)

amorsen (7485) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088458)

Why not deliver this rover the same way the other rovers were delivered?

Because it would make a nice crater that way. Nature is not scale-free.

Re:Why? (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088602)

Yes. There is a nice explanation at the Curiosity site (I think) that goes through the various thought processes but basically, IIRC

- The payload AND landing zone requirements made the rubber ball bouncing technique not viable
- The unload off a ramp technique that the current rovers use doesn't scale well and has the major problem of failure if it lands on anything other than reasonably flat terrain. This limited the science and the landing site too much.
- The retrorocket system has been used by Viking and the current rovers
- The skycrane approach has a number of major advantages in terms of terrain avoidance, design of the rover, and size of payload at the expense of complexity.

The teams apparently felt that the risks were worth the benefits. Basically, they felt that unless the technology was pushed forward, the science packages would be too limited.

It is rocket science after all.

Re:Why? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088932)

Or they could have reused the MER platform and these wouldn't have been issues in the first place. My view is that they are putting the cart before the horse with missions that have so many costly development hurdles.

Re:Why? (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089256)

No they could not. The MER (Mars Exploration Rover - Opportunity and Spirit) system can't land heavy payloads in a narrowly defined landing zone. Using that system, you get a landing ellipse of about 100 km2 area restricted to a band about 40 degrees above and below the equator (IIRC). For many, many interesting targets, that isn't good enough. You are also constrained to payloads about the same size as the baby rovers.

Yes, you can argue that the next step should be dozens of MER craft landed in many different zones. That is certainly a valid argument and one that has been made. However, according to the nice rocket scientists that have studied this for years (as opposed to us armchair astronauts who study things for 10 minutes max), it was felt that more significant research needed heavier payloads delivered with better accuracy.

I think there should be enough money in NASA's budget to fund both concepts (and Venus landers and Titan blimps and on and on) but I'm just a taxpayer.

Re:Why? (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089664)

The MER (Mars Exploration Rover - Opportunity and Spirit) system can't land heavy payloads in a narrowly defined landing zone.

And it's worth noting that NASA doesn't have a need to land in a narrowly defined landing zone, at least one much more narrowly defined than the MER were already capable of landing in.

That is certainly a valid argument and one that has been made. However, according to the nice rocket scientists that have studied this for years (as opposed to us armchair astronauts who study things for 10 minutes max), it was felt that more significant research needed heavier payloads delivered with better accuracy.

I would feel the "need" for a couple of billion dollars too. Keep in mind that this is a rover with a fair bit of range, allegedly more than the MERs. Further, its target is the Gale Crater, which, according to Wikipedia, is almost 100 miles in diameter. You don't need a pin-point landing.

As to "heavier instruments", It's worth noting that 8 or so MERs carry almost as much.

Finally, we have to consider both the degree of risk, namely, this is a riskier mission than one using a proven vehicle, and the concentration of risk, namely, the eggs are all in one vehicle. It matters because NASA, due to the way it structures space science missions, only has a few slots going to Mars. Any accident sets them back by years since they don't have another vehicle deployed which overlaps with the mission's goals or capabilities.

I don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the problems with a mission approach.

Re:Why? (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092528)

And it's worth noting that NASA doesn't have a need to land in a narrowly defined landing zone, at least one much more narrowly defined than the MER were already capable of landing in.

Yeah, NASA doesn't know what they need...

Remember, Opportunity drove 20Mi/30km in 7 years. If you miss your target by 10km, that's a lot of time you'll need.

I would feel the "need" for a couple of billion dollars too. Keep in mind that this is a rover with a fair bit of range, allegedly more than the MERs. Further, its target is the Gale Crater, which, according to Wikipedia, is almost 100 miles in diameter. You don't need a pin-point landing.

See point above. And you want to target the rim of the crater usually. That's where the interesting geological formations are.

Finally, we have to consider both the degree of risk, namely, this is a riskier mission than one using a proven vehicle, and the concentration of risk, namely, the eggs are all in one vehicle. It matters because NASA, due to the way it structures space science missions, only has a few slots going to Mars. Any accident sets them back by years since they don't have another vehicle deployed which overlaps with the mission's goals or capabilities.

Of course, that's why they're testing Curiosity to death. No one wants to see it fail. But there's so much you can do with an existing vehicle. Maybe they could launch 8 MERs with different instruments, but it's probably more work than it's worth. Less risky, sure, but maybe not so scientifically groundbreaking.

And Curiosity is a needed exercise on landing heavier and heavier things on mars.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088468)

It's way too big for the air-bag balloon landing they used before.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088490)

Because this one is much bigger and heavier and apparently it doesn't work then.

Re:Why? (1)

oxide7 (1013325) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088610)

The article said because this weighs multiples of the previous rovers. Also there is a lot more sensitive lab equipment inside, i would imagine

Re:Why? (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088630)

Airbags scale by a factor of ~2.5 with mass. MSL is much larger than the MERs. Thus it can't be landed with airbags and fit on top of a launch vehicle.

The skycrane, ridiculous as it may seem, is probably really the best way to get something the size of MSL to the ground. Whether or not they wouldn't have been better off selecting a couple of MER sized machines is a different question...

Re:Why? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088638)

Why not deliver this rover the same way the other rovers were delivered?

They are delivering the rover the same way. They're just eliminating the "deploy the airbags and bounce around the planet for half an hour" part of the delivery, and are just placing the rover directly on the surface.

Re:Why? (1)

milkmage (795746) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089072)

why not RTFA?

Because of its weight and sheer size, NASA cannot use the airbag padded rolling landing used for previous flights. Curiosity's landing will use a different method, lowering the rover on tethers from a rocket-backpack "sky crane."

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37090698)

Sure, why not? [youtube.com]

What could possibly go wrong here. (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088456)

Piece of cake.
This is an incredible approach at landing if it works everybody involved should and would feel proud of their work.

If it fails you'll never hear about it anymore.

Galileo Spacecraft it's never publicly mentioned in relation to the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact on Jupiter.
Yet it had a front roll seat, it watched the impacts, the fact it's high gain antenna wouldn't deploy
meant it couldn't send pictures back.

I watched one of the Mars bots do it's beach ball landings, they keep saying "still rolling" until there was obvious
problems in the faces of those involved; Once they figured the problem was due to doppler (Mars was going away from the earth)
the rolling stopped, and it had landed.

Good Luck NASA

Re:What could possibly go wrong here. (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088494)

If it fails you'll never hear about it anymore.

Unless it fails for some stupid reason like some metric/US unit mismatch in the code ...

Phoenix 2 (1)

cdxta (1170917) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088702)

So the Phoenix 2 will have Firefox 9?

tech development versus science output (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088850)

From this story [marsdaily.com] :

However, in February 2009, because of the late delivery of several critical components and instruments, NASA delayed the launch to a date between October and December 2011.

This delay and the additional resources required to resolve the underlying technical issues increased the Project's development costs by 86 percent, from $969 million to the current $1.8 billion, and its life-cycle costs by 56 percent, from $1.6 billion to the current $2.5 billion.

So roughly two thirds of the cost of the entire mission is in developing the technology and building one vehicle. One thing that is routinely ignored in discussions of space probes is the trade-off between cutting edge development and actual output of the space probe. For example, instead of building the Mars Science Laboratory and its gear, we could have sent around 8 Mars Expedition Rovers (the actual cost of building and launching a rover is somewhere around $300 million). You might not have gotten quite as nice a variety of scientific output for any given location as the MSL, but you'd get up to (counting the possibility of mission failures!) eight different locations and the risk per mission would be lower (since the MERs are proven tech).

My view here is that technology development has taken over the business of NASA's space science division. Yes, you do need on occasion to develop new technology in order to explore. But these missions have somewhere around two-thirds the cost of the entire mission in developing and building new, unproven technology. Then if the mission succeeds, they'll go on to more new, unproven technology rather than use the platform further.

Fifty years from now, what of this whole stream of technology development will still be useful? Will it be like NASA's atmospheric science of the past where decades down the road, some entrepreneur might come along and pick and choose from the pieces of debris (mostly reports) that remain?

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089266)

All of the technology was new and unproven at some point. If you keep trying at it, it becomes less new and more tested. It's the nature of the game. Also, MER is not proven, it just happened to succeed twice. Don't get me wrong, they were excellent successes, but it's just 2 for 2.

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089590)

Also, MER is not proven, it just happened to succeed twice.

And you are inherently wrong here. Successes are in the engineering parlance, "proofs" of a technology. Two successes are vastly more than zero successes.

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090230)

Maybe you should brush up on basic statistics before calling others out on being wrong. It is feasible to have a experimental high success rate while having a low chance of individual success given that there are few enough trials. IOW you can't say with good certainty that any trial has a good success rate if you have too few previous trials to back it up, no matter their rate. TL;DR That's not proof.

Re:tech development versus science output (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090516)

Maybe you should brush up on basic statistics before calling others out on being wrong. It is feasible to have a experimental high success rate while having a low chance of individual success given that there are few enough trials. IOW you can't say with good certainty that any trial has a good success rate if you have too few previous trials to back it up, no matter their rate. TL;DR That's not proof.

There are two things to remark on here. First, context indicates that the successes are more significant than you'd expect statistically. It is rather unlikely for aerospace failures to be in a certain range of likelihood. Usually things either fail with certainty or have a rather high success rate (at least 50%). That's just a rule of thumb, but borne out by a lot of aerospace history. So even one success of a very difficult mission profile (such as landing on Mars and deploying a rover for several years) is a significant piece of information beyond its intrinsic statistical content. We also need to consider that each success includes a variety of "near misses", almost failures that yield information which can reduce the likelihood of future failures without causing a failure.

Second, NASA has formalized some engineering heuristics associated with this, namely, the "technology readiness level" [wikipedia.org] . The ratings range from TRL 0 for a technology that has only been yapped about on an internet forum to TRL 9 for a technology used for a real mission. The rationale (or perhaps risk model) for this ranking is because there are perceived to be substantial development risks that are associated with advancing levels and end with successful achievement of a level (this process is called "risk retirement"). This development risk is a large component of the costs I complain about.

For example, the Mars Expedition Rovers are TRL 9 (they have been successfully used in a mission). While many of the systems on the Mars Science Laboratory are TRL 9, the overall system is TRL 6 (whole system has been tested on the ground in a "relevant environment", but no testing in a space environment). Significant work was needed just to get the MSL to TRL 6.

NASA now attempts to jump the MSL to TRL 9. There might be all sorts of minor or major problems that will only show up once the vehicle is in the situation for the first time. The MER platform might have these problems (if the platform is modified enough so that it's very different from the original), but we have significant positive knowledge about its reliability and capabilities.

Sure, the MSL could end up being less likely to fail than the MER, but I wouldn't expect it from a platform that hasn't been flown before versus one that has flown successfully twice.

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092588)

And that's what you get by only looking at numbers.

Yes, MERs ARE PROOF the project/concept works. You only need ONE success for that.

If the project wasn't good you would have ZERO successes, no matter how many times you tried.

Of course, if it's a good success rate, sure, you would need more samples. Still, if it worked twice, the success rate is much higher than you assume.

Re:tech development versus science output (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089282)

Oh come on. You guys are 14-16 trillion in debt, this is a drop in the bucket quite literally. This is NASA, R&D is its game, efficient ROI is not. Get a grip buddy.

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089636)

Oh come on. You guys are 14-16 trillion in debt, this is a drop in the bucket quite literally. This is NASA, R&D is its game, efficient ROI is not. Get a grip buddy.

So it's ok to waste money on NASA because "we" are wasting it elsewhere? Any other fallacies you'd like to share with us?

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089812)

"So it's ok to waste money on NASA because "we" are wasting it elsewhere? Any other fallacies you'd like to share with us?"

Yup. your vote actually counts.

Private corporations dont own politics.

The tea party is really for preserving the rights of Americans.

Re:tech development versus science output (1)

Solandri (704621) | more than 3 years ago | (#37091512)

One thing that is routinely ignored in discussions of space probes is the trade-off between cutting edge development and actual output of the space probe. For example, instead of building the Mars Science Laboratory and its gear, we could have sent around 8 Mars Expedition Rovers (the actual cost of building and launching a rover is somewhere around $300 million). You might not have gotten quite as nice a variety of scientific output for any given location as the MSL, but you'd get up to (counting the possibility of mission failures!) eight different locations and the risk per mission would be lower (since the MERs are proven tech).

My view here is that technology development has taken over the business of NASA's space science division. Yes, you do need on occasion to develop new technology in order to explore. But these missions have somewhere around two-thirds the cost of the entire mission in developing and building new, unproven technology. Then if the mission succeeds, they'll go on to more new, unproven technology rather than use the platform further.

IMHO, that is the point of NASA - to push the envelope of technological development in order to more rapidly create new innovative research methods and technologies, not to rest on its laurels and build a sustainable business model. The whole reason it's taxpayer-funded is because we expect lots of failures and for its returns to never directly pay for the initial investment. Bear in mind that NASA started off as NACA [wikipedia.org] , whose goal was to centralize fundamental aerospace research. That way all companies could benefit from it, instead of each company wasting money conducting duplicate research to push the forefront of aviation. NACA itself didn't profit from its research.

Fifty years from now, what of this whole stream of technology development will still be useful? Will it be like NASA's atmospheric science of the past where decades down the road, some entrepreneur might come along and pick and choose from the pieces of debris (mostly reports) that remain?

If you ask the scientists and engineers who were kids in the 1960s and 1970s why they chose their profession, I'd bet the vast majority would point to the space program and the moon landings. That's the intangible benefit of having a public program which is always on the cutting edge, rather than sitting safely behind it. And I would argue that's actually the primary goal of NASA. They shouldn't be promoting a specific scientific exploration, they should be promoting science and engineering in general.

Look at what happened in the 1970s after the initial moon landings. The public lost interest in it. NASA scrapped the later moon landings and instead used the remaining Saturn V rockets to launch an orbiting space station - because it hadn't been done yet. Look at what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when space shuttle launches became routine. The public lost interest in it. For the vast majority of people, there was only one moon landing, one aborted moon landing, and only 3 shuttle launches - Hubble's repair mission, and the two in which we lost orbiters. NASA needs to constantly be doing new, innovative stuff in order to fulfill its mission of engaging the public and getting them interested in science and engineering.

Vaporize rocks from 7 meters away? (1)

Okian Warrior (537106) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088864)

From the linked article: An instrument named ChemCam will use laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil targets up to 7 meters (23 feet) away.

I have this mental image of thousands of tiny terrified martians fleeing their homes after the "heat ray" vaporizes the town square.

No-one would have believed, in the first years of the 21st century, that martian affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few martians even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this planet with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us.

Re:Vaporize rocks from 7 meters away? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089108)

From the linked article: An instrument named ChemCam will use laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil targets up to 7 meters (23 feet) away.

I have this mental image of thousands of tiny terrified martians fleeing their homes after the "heat ray" vaporizes the town square.

Seconds before the sharks ate them! Surely the lasers are mounted on sharks, right?

Re:Vaporize rocks from 7 meters away? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089274)

in the first years of the 21st century

amazing! let's see, 2000 * 1.88 = about 3760 years ago, Martian Jesus was born!

Re:Vaporize rocks from 7 meters away? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089300)

"except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish *Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator!"

Note: In some early scriptural texts, also referred to as the Pu-36"

Re:Vaporize rocks from 7 meters away? (1)

omi5cron (1455851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090096)

i immediately hear jeff wayne's war of the worlds! richard burton did a great job of narration...thanks for reawakening those chills down my spine.

Dust (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | more than 3 years ago | (#37088924)

Please tell me they have a way of getting dust off the solar panels. Every time I read about dust buildup on Spirit and Opportunity's solar panels causing problems all I could think of was why didn't they install some type of simple vibration mechanism or air jet or any number of possible solutions.

Re:Dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37088948)

Curiosity is powered by radioisotope, not solar panels.

Re:Dust (2)

rts008 (812749) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089142)

NASA has already explained this. It was not an oversight/mistake.
The mission parameters only had a 90 day window.
Why sacrifice weight, available space, and $$$ for features not needed for the job requirements.

It's not like software, where added features above requirements adds value at little, to no cost.
In this case, added features have a sever penalty to the requirements.

Re:Dust (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089270)

I've been reading more about MSL in the last few hours and I see that it doesn't use solar panels. Good. Not removing dust from the MER's solar panels was a mistake in hindsight. No question. They designed for a 90 d mission, but the mission changed. If every system had started to fail at the 90 d mark it really would have sucked, and they'd use the same tired excuse of "but we designed strictly to the mission parameters." It costs a fortune to send these to Mars so longevity is crucial, and the power source is absolutely critical to the mission. Got to think ahead and plan for a future change in the mission requirements - even after you've landed the thing.

Re:Dust (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089288)

Please tell me they have a way of getting dust off the solar panels. Every time I read about dust buildup on Spirit and Opportunity's solar panels causing problems all I could think of was why didn't they install some type of simple vibration mechanism or air jet or any number of possible solutions.

Please tell me you have at least looked at the picture of the lander and realized it doesn't have any solar panels. Oh, wait, slap me. It's Slashdot....

What about Rocks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089002)

How are they going to manage if the tethering is right over a large boulder? Do they have software / radar to detect such things?

In memoriam of Spirit and Opporunity... (1)

file_reaper (1290016) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089308)

Why waste the time and money? (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089344)

So...why the fuck are we still shooting rovers to Mars? Why aren't we going ourselves yet? We've seen it, sampled it, measured and tested every aspect we can...it's time to pay the rock a fucking visit, not shoot more meters and probes at it.

Pull your heads out of your asses, government, and send a fucking human being to Mars already.

Re:Why waste the time and money? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089870)

Because we are more interested in policing the Middle east.

Re:Why waste the time and money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37090156)

Because contrary to what your post is titled, sending people to mars would be a waste of time and money. It's dangerous, complicated (unlike a person, a robot does not necessarily need to come back and it definitely doesn't need oxygen, food or water) and there's nothing a person could do on mars that a machine couldn't.

Sending people to space is nothing but a massive publicity stunt. This is also one of the reasons why they killed the shuttle program. As much as it pains me to think that our astronauts are hitching rides with the Russians, it's still the right thing to do because the shuttle program was a massive waste of money compared to sending robots.

Re:Why waste the time and money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37092404)

With there-and-back communication times of around 40 minutes, a remote controlled rover can take several days to analyse one rock. The pace at which science is done by rovers is staggeringly slow. In one martian day, a human geologist could replicate all the work done by surface rovers from the last three decades.

Faster reactions by having meat-critters on site locally would allow science that a machine could not do. It would enable work in rougher terrain, such as on high mountains, deep valleys, or craters (geologically interesting areas). It allows you to work near changeable terrain, such as actively eroding cliffs (again, geologically interesting areas, and the kind of place where you would expect to find fossils if there were any to be found). Perhaps the best sites to visit that a robot would be unable to handle would be the poles, which combine both of these lovely hazards. The martian ice caps are only partly water ice, with a large component of carbon dioxide ice too. It's believed that the co2 ice is seasonal, subliming away as gas during the polar summer, leaving incredibly complex and broken cave systems that will be destroyed again by the next winter. There's nowhere like that on earth, it would be like nothing we've ever seen, and although yes it would be dangerous for a human, a robot would last about 30 seconds there before getting stuck.

Sending humans is massively more expensive, but it is silly to claim that there's no benefit at all above what robots could do.

Re:Why waste the time and money? (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090416)

If by explore you mean that we've done the equivalent of exploring New York city by walking around LaGuardia airport. I guess the assumption is that Mars is pretty much the same terrain all over (excepting Olympus of course). I suspect this is not even close to true. Either way we aren't even close to the tech needed to send a human team to Mars (and back?).

Because of the waste of time and money! (1)

Gorimek (61128) | more than 3 years ago | (#37091190)

Sending humans, fucking or not, would cost 100 or 1000 times as much as this alleged waste of money.

Re:Why waste the time and money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37092182)

Sending humans outside of the of the magnetosphere of earth is untested. Even the moon has magnetic properties that prevent ions to turn you into swiss cheese. This is the main problem about sending humans outside of these regions of space. We just haven't found a material that will not allow micro particles to pass through them and eventually the people in the craft.

By the time that cutting edge tech gets to Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089588)

It'll be sold at Costco.

I hope Microsoft isn't involved. (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | more than 3 years ago | (#37089628)

"It looks like you are trying to explore Mars. Would you like to explore Earth on Bing Maps?" - Clippy

No African contribution,of course... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37089940)

So I suppose I'm right in thinking that this won't be produced by Africans, what with them being just as intelligent as white people, right?

I just can't understand it. Surely all the Africans living in previously all white countries are 'just like us', and making our countries a BETTER place, right?

Because we can't possibly suggest that they go and live in AFRICA, can we? That would be 'racist', right?

(How apt! My CAPTCHA is "welfare" !!!)

Yeah, all we might miss are 1000 crickets... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#37090618)

Will NASA *ever* put at least one sound sensor on probes they send into atmospheric environments? If they have done it, why is it never published?

Re:Yeah, all we might miss are 1000 crickets... (1)

Zarhan (415465) | more than 3 years ago | (#37092298)

They do.

Listen to the sounds of titan [planetary.org] , recorded by Hyugens probe (fine, that was european, but piggybacked on Cassini).

Mars Polar Lander also had one (although it crashed).

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