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NASA Extends Rover Occupation of Mars

CmdrTaco posted more than 10 years ago | from the wait-till-they-try-to-occupy-us dept.

Science 206

iocat writes "Reuters reporting that NASA is extending the Rover missions on Mars by another five months. However, they point out that while the rovers look poised to greatly exceed their planned life cycle, they could basically die at any time. Still, it will be cool to see a little more exploration."

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well, at least... (0, Offtopic)

paganizer (566360) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864101)

no one is shooting at us there.
I hope.

Re:well, at least... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864147)

Want to bet? Casualty rates amoung mars bound rovers are many times higher than casualty rates in Iraq or Afganistan.

Re:well, at least... (-1, Offtopic)

paganizer (566360) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864148)

OMG.
I got a first post on slashdot.
and it wasn't COMPLETELY off topic, either.
my life is now complete; no where to go but down from here....
Which pretty much sucks.

Re:well, at least... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864223)

Where to go from here? Join GNAA and you get to 'go down' quite a bit! Post your frosty pisses in the name of GNAA and watch your faghood rise to the top of the trash pile!

Re:well, at least... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864265)

So if a Martian upgrades Spirit/Opportunity with a Fleshlight (damn those shipping charges!!!) does that make him a goatfucker ?!!!!

Almost first post (4, Interesting)

Pi_0's don't shower (741216) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864104)

I wonder how much terrain these rovers can explore in 5 months, or if they're basically useless because of range limitations?

Re:Almost first post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864133)

They are solar powered with battery backups.

So their range is unlimited, provided all systems remain functional.

Re:Almost first post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864142)

well...i'm glad to tell you:

you didn't fail to fail it.

YOU FAIL IT!!!!

Re:Almost first post (5, Informative)

Jott42 (702470) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864303)

If memory serves me, they have a range of 30-75 meters /day, after the recent sofware upgrade. Which would give a maximum distance of over 11km, given that they dont find anything interesting on they way and starts investigating it.

Re:Almost first post (2, Informative)

snake_dad (311844) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864472)

Opportunity already drove 100 meters in one day [nasa.gov] . Ofcourse the terrain on Meridiani is completely different compared to Gusev.

Re:Almost first post (4, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864314)

The difficulty is in their solar panels. Eventually they collect so much dust that they don't generate enough power. Also, the rovers stay very still at night to conserve power.

Interestingly enough, the engineers nearly had an RTG working for the Rovers. Unfortunately, the outcry about Cassini pretty much killed that. It's too bad, because with an RTG, the power source would outlast the rest of the components by some 50 years!

Re:Almost first post (5, Informative)

Sgs-Cruz (526085) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864474)

For those who, like me, aren't astrophysicists and had to look up an RTG, it's a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator [daviddarling.info] . Basically a nuclear power source for the rover.

Re:Almost first post (1)

snake_dad (311844) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864489)

The difficulty is in their solar panels.

No. According to recent briefings it is much more likely that other parts will fail before the solar panels become useless.

Re:Almost first post (5, Interesting)

Mal-2 (675116) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864330)

Even with range limitations they're hardly useless. Both rovers landed in relatively fertile areas for exploration, and Opportunity would have still been a big success even if it proved unable to leave the crater it landed in. The main thing that comes to my mind is to find the edges of the ancient ocean and explore there -- partly because tidepools on Earth are teeming with life, and partly because shallow water means fossils (if present) won't be buried very deep. I noticed very early on that the rocks Opportunity was looking at looked an awful lot like tidepool rocks, at least ones from the eastern Pacific shore (the only ones I've seen firsthand). I knew there was good reason for NASA to be REALLY damn sure before announcing there was a lot of water on Mars at one time, but I pretty well was convinced as soon as I saw those distinctive wormholed rocks.

However, it looks like their lifespan will be determined by a few factors, some of which are within human control and some which are not:

1. Dust storms. Seems to me one good one would pretty well take a rover out of service from dust buildup on the panels alone.

2. Equipment failure, particularly the "always on and draining power" type. One has already made Opportunity a little bit gimpy, but I doubt a single such failure would be fatal. Cumulatively, several would just be too much to bear.

3. Shorter and/or darker Martian days as the seasons and distance from the sun change. This won't take out a rover outright of course, but they could compound the prior two problems. At least these events are predictable.

4. The Martian Defense System finally tracks the rovers down and explodes them. Turns out the reason they didn't shoot the first time is they thought it was just another shipment of punching balloons for their nitrous oxide-fueled nightlife. Once they realize we sent ROVERS and not RAVERS, they're going to be mighty pissed off.

Mal-2

It's NOT "occupation". (5, Funny)

Dark Lord Seth (584963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864109)

It's "liberation" instead, people.

Re:It's NOT "occupation". (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864209)

Not Troll, +1 Funny.

Especially funny when you consider that the Martian Defences were reallllllly good at taking out bogies until NASA pulled an unprecedented 3 for 3, 100% success on their landers.

Continue the liberation of Mars! Soon it will look just like Earth, scattered bits and pieces of long-range weapo^Wmetal everywhere.

All we need is some smog and we can call it home!

Re:It's NOT "occupation". (-1, Offtopic)

jeabus (703419) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864356)

I, for one, welcome our new rover overlords.

Re:It's NOT "occupation". (2, Funny)

flewp (458359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864376)

You mean Roverlords.

Re:It's NOT "occupation". (1)

Rellik66 (596729) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864578)

I, for one, welcome our new space roverlords

Yes but... (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864386)

Do they have an exit strategy? I thought it was 'Mission accomplished,' but still there's no sign of those Little Green Men (LGMs).

Re:It's NOT "occupation". (1)

Deraj DeZine (726641) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864397)

Wow, never heard that one before. You forgot to mention WMDs and bin Laden, by the way.

Besides, it's not a liberation mission unless we take out the Martian overlords and then setup a puppet government to take away their natural resources.

Just remember that in War of the Worlds, Mars occupies YOU. (That last comment is for completeness, not humor)

Occupation? (4, Funny)

pldms (136522) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864112)

It's an occupation of Mars now? I thought the were just tourists.

Re:Occupation? (-1, Redundant)

Have Blue (616) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864245)

They weren't tourists, they were liberators.

Re:Occupation? (0)

TheJavaGuy (725547) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864282)

This is not an occupation. The rovers will be there forever regardless of the mission status. NASA has just extended their life.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864316)

It's an occupation of Mars now?

No, it's a "stabilization."

Re:Occupation? (-1)

Space_Soldier (628825) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864416)

American Special Forces have said the same thing (that they are tourists) before pointing the lasers at Saddam's buildings in Iraq to guide the bombs. Got camel?

FP!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864116)

aa

teh SPOKE!!1!!!?? i want to haev yuor babees!!!~~! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864117)

so (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864120)

so? who cares?

get us out of iraq

Hope they didn't skimp on construction. (4, Funny)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864122)

"However, while Spirit is past its 'warranty', we look forward to continued discoveries by both rovers in the months ahead."

Maybe they should have gotten that rust-proof coating after all.

Re:Hope they didn't skimp on construction. (1)

jlp2097 (223651) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864180)

Maybe they should have gotten that rust-proof coating after all.

Yeah, with all the water on Mars...

Re:Hope they didn't skimp on construction. (1)

microwave_EE (768395) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864270)

Skimp? NASA? Never!!! They just don't check what unit systems their engineers use.

You must mean "dust-proof coating" (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864288)

> Maybe they should have gotten that rust-proof coating after all.

You must mean "dust-proof coating". Given that there is no water on Mars and almost no oxygen, rust would not be much of a problem.

Re:You must mean "dust-proof coating" (2, Informative)

isaac (2852) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864558)

You must mean "dust-proof coating". Given that there is no water on Mars and almost no oxygen, rust would not be much of a problem.

Actually, Mars is red precisely because of rust - iron oxide. Quite a bit of the dust, particularly the hematite-bearing stuff at the Opportunity site, is composed of iron oxides - the dust is rust!

Incidentally, it's suspected that the reason there's not significant molecular oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is precisely because it's been locked up in the iron-rich surface.

-Isaac

Who the fuck cares. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864125)

Who the fuck cares.

Re:Who the fuck cares. (-1, Offtopic)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864279)

You are new here aren't you?

No I'm New Here (-1)

New Here (701369) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864539)

No I'm New Here

FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864126)

This is a fp for my brother adi, who is going to bucharest tomorrow.
Rock on, bitch!

unmanned missions (3, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864130)

Unmanned missions are great. Humans can run out of food and air, and get tired and homesick. Robots can run basically forever, until something breaks or they run out of juice. If these things prove 1/50 as durable as Galileo did, they'll provide science more than we ever could have hoped for.

A dupe... on Slashdot?! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864164)

What are the odds of that? 1 in 4? 1 in 3?

Re:unmanned missions (1)

Gherald (682277) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864189)

If, as you so eloquently stated, robots can run until basically forever until something breaks or they run out of juice, Why do think they will "provide science more than we could ever have hoped for" ?

Re:unmanned missions (4, Interesting)

morcheeba (260908) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864318)

I hate to argue with your logic, but here goes:

Robots can run basically forever, until something breaks or they run out of juice.
Somehow running out of this consumable is better than a human running out of their consumables (food and air)? If you want to be accurate, there are mechanisms for both to regenerate these consumables -- solar cells and plants.

One unique thing about people (besides their intelligence) is their self-healing characteristics ... if a robot gets a little hole in a hydraulic tube, it'll leak until it's empty. A human would clot that blood and carry on. If a human breaks a leg, you can bet they'd figure out a way to complete the mission with just one leg... I wouldn't give a robot those odds, even if they lost only one of six legs.

But, I agree.. unmanned missions are great, just for totally different reasons: low cost and hence, the ability to many missions to many different areas, each with new instruments designed to test theorys proposed by the results of previous missions. A human mission would blow the whole budget with just one trip.

Re:unmanned missions (1)

rickbrodie (535715) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864577)

I may be wrong, but I think what the grandparent was trying to say was that robots can carry on after their planned mission duration, unlike humans.

These rover missions were planned to run for something like three months (I don't remember exactly). If it were a manned mission, given the inherent constraints, *very* soon after the three months were up the humans would have to curtail their mission. This would be because their food, water and oxygen would have been very carefully measured before launch. In order to save launch mass, there would be little or no surplus consumables. The mission is three months, so there is no reason to put four or five months worth of oxygen on the ship. It would cost more to get to mars, would not be used, and would have to be transported back to earth (at great cost as well).

With a robot, on the other hand, it does not have the same requirements. It does not have to take all these consumables with it. It can be built to take advantage of the local resources (sunlight). The same three month mission is now merely a paper deadline, an arbitrary target used to aim for when constructing the robot. Given the nature of such a machine, it will not cease functioning the minute the three months are up (like the humans) so it can be assumed to be capable of carrying on for longer, into extra time. The three month mission (which was what was budgeted for) is complete and they now have an essentially free (of charge) robot on mars to do some experiments or observations, possibly, which (on their own) would not have made a mars rover cost-effective.

Re:unmanned missions (5, Informative)

anzha (138288) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864333)

If these things prove 1/50 as durable as Galileo did

If I may extract something I read from a post on Usenet a few years ago by a real astronomer (Frank Crary) about Galileo:

JPL and NASA say that Galileo accomplished 80% of its science goals, and they got that number (as I understand it) by going through the list of science goals, giving each a yes/no value, and dividing the number of yes's by the number of items. Usually, it isn't that simple. There is, ``yes, but not as well as we wanted'',``definitely yes, but we could have done better'', ``no but we still got some good data along those lines'', etc. Nor were all the goals of equal value, although you could argue endlessly about which were worth more than others. Then you get into the never-never land of things that were not on that list. I'm fairly sure that magnetometer data on the existence of an ocean on Europa wasn't on the list, and I'm quite sure that similar data on an ocean within Callisto definitely wasn't (just to use one example I'm familiar with.) Often, when you observe something, you discover something you did not expect to find. In several cases, Galileo has done that. Would there have been more unexpected discoveries if the high gain antenna had opened? Yes, definitely. But how many and how important? How can you attach a number to something like that? I would say that Galileo is a success, but not a complete success, and that the sum total of the scientific results is between 50 and 100% of what it might have achieved. I don't know, and I don't even know how to figure out, where between 50 and 100% the ``real'' value is.

That's from here [google.com] .

Two notes.

First being that Galileo didn't provide more science than we hoped for. In many ways, it provided a lot less than we hoped for. I'm not calling it a failure, BTW.

Secondly, be careful whatcha say online...it might come back to haunt ya years down the line. ;)

Re:unmanned missions (1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864406)

You certainly did extract :) . I was commenting on Galileo's durability, not necessarily its scientific contributions. There were problems with its antenna, and programming as well (iirc). But imagine if the rovers can hang on for another six months or more. Who knows. Maybe they can turn up fossilize life or something equally cool.

manned missions (3, Insightful)

kippy (416183) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864340)

Unmanned missions are great.

So Are manned ones in the right context like Mars.

Humans can run out of food and air, and get tired and homesick.

On Mars humans can make their own air water and food provided a power source like a portable nuclear reactor and the air and ground around them. It's called living in-situ. As long as you don't send flakes, the homesickness isn't an issue. They're allowed to sleep and would have more waking time than the rovers so I wouldn't worry about them getting "tired".

Robots can run basically forever, until something breaks or they run out of juice.

You just contradicted yourself there.

If these things prove 1/50 as durable as Galileo did, they'll provide science more than we ever could have hoped for.

Perhaps but humans on the surface would have been able to work faster and smarter these probes. Galileo was well suited to its mission and a human would not have been. In the case of Mars, humans are much better suited.

Re:unmanned missions (1)

taped2thedesk (614051) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864449)

Humans can run out of food and air, and get tired and homesick. Robots can run basically forever, until something breaks or they run out of juice.

Not to mention that we don't have to bother bringing them back at the end of the mission.

Wow (4, Funny)

Auckerman (223266) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864131)

Who would have thought they would extend it again [slashdot.org] this soon after extending it the first time?

Rover occupation of Mars? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864140)

That's a bit of a loaded phrase, isn't it? "Oh, Bush is President, and the rover is on Mars! It's an occupation! Free Mars!!!"

Funding for this project. (-1, Troll)

bethane (686358) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864141)

Here is an interesting analysis on how NASA justified this project to the PHBs. it is a very interesting read

Re:Funding for this project. (-1, Troll)

bethane (686358) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864179)

Sorry i must learn to post links properly, here it is [fnal.gov]

WARNING - NOT WORK SAFE (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864460)

The old hidden auto-open-lots-of-disgusting-piccies trick. You have been warned.

Excellent! (4, Interesting)

qualico (731143) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864152)

Its always good for future missions if the current ones exceed expectations.

Looking at Mars, now a distant orange glow in the sky, it amazes me that we have intelligence there.

Good job NASA.

Re:Excellent! (1)

MouseR (3264) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864300)

Looking at Mars, now a distant orange glow in the sky, it amazes me that we have intelligence there

Uh-hu.

Too bad we don't have any down here.

Re:Excellent! (1)

qualico (731143) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864442)

lol!

We do, its just really rare.

Re:Excellent! (1)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864328)

Its always good for future missions if the current ones exceed expectations.

Not necessarily - then it'll be disappointing if next time they merely meet expectations.

More info... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864153)

More exciting information here [slashdot.org]

NASA Press release 4/8 (5, Informative)

morcheeba (260908) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864154)

This was posted on JPL's rover site [nasa.gov] on Thursday. It's got a lot more info.

Occupation? (2, Insightful)

The_K4 (627653) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864156)

The durration of their "Occupation" isn't changing. They are there to die and be buried in dust. Their operation limetime has been extended!

Re:Occupation? (1)

ross.w (87751) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864299)

They will die and be buried in the dust or they will return home in coffins!

Sorry , which occupation were we talking about?

The Iraqi Information Minister.

Why? (1)

thedillybar (677116) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864165)

Did they decide to extend the mission because people love following it and want to keep it going? Or are they extending it because they haven't found anything "big" to report on yet?

Whatever happens, I think they've found a lot of useful data that will take months to analyze. Hopefully they'll have continued success for as long as they keep the mission going. I look forward to seeing the final analyses from these observations.

Re:Why? (1)

FrYGuY101 (770432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864234)

Did they decide to extend the mission because people love following it and want to keep it going? Or are they extending it because they haven't found anything "big" to report on yet?
Neither. They 'extended' it because they're still working. If they're still working when Mars comes out of the Sun's "shadow", they'll 'extend' the mission again then, too, until they break, or no more useful information can be extracted from them.

Re:Why? Because it is inexpensive. (4, Insightful)

David Hume (200499) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864276)


Why? Did they decide to extend the mission because people love following it and want to keep it going? Or are they extending it because they haven't found anything "big" to report on yet?


I expect at least part of the reason is because it is inexpensive. According to the Reuters report [reuters.com] , "NASA said it would spend $15 million more to keep the rivers exploring the planet's surface through September." Can you think of a more cost-effective way for NASA to spend that money?

how to spend $15M (1)

kippy (416183) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864384)

Can you think of a more cost-effective way for NASA to spend that money?

Hire a better administrator.

Re:Why? Because it is inexpensive. (1)

kippy (416183) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864404)

Can you think of a more cost-effective way for NASA to spend that money?

They could publish another report that says "saftey is great. Let's be safe."

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864294)

Because they are still going stong, producing good science, and it cost $800 million to get them there, so why not use them while you have the ability to. Would you throw away something of such value because you crossed some arbitrary deadline? That would be silly.

Duplicate? (2, Informative)

WayneConrad (312222) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864167)

For more comments, see this article [slashdot.org] from the 11th.

Free MARS! (2, Funny)

xmorg (718633) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864170)

End the occoupation of mars! We are the ALIENS HERE, violating the privacy of our neighbors by sending back constant images of their sacred homeland. this calus discregard for intergalactice rights is appauling!!!

Re:Free MARS! (1)

qualico (731143) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864207)

You should stop listening to those fish and take a buffered anagestic. :->

Re:Free MARS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864529)

They should also consider spell check before posting.

In other news... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864181)

The US announces its occupation of Iraq by another five months. Responding to questions, President Bush stated "We have invaded and will occupy Iraq for as long as it takes until every last sand nigger accepts Jesus as Lord."

dupe (-1, Redundant)

mr_tommy (619972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864203)

Dupe :(
Article [slashdot.org]
And i even mailed the on duty editor.

Re:dupe (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864251)

/. -- the place to discuss everything twice!

Re:dupe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864275)

I would have e mailed the editor. The USPS [usps.gov] is notoriously slow.

Rivers? (2, Funny)

Unnngh! (731758) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864230)

From the article:

NASA said it would spend $15 million more to keep the rivers exploring the planet's surface through September.

A bit optimistic about the discovery of water on Mars, aren't we?

Hubble (0)

TheJavaGuy (725547) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864237)

Looks like a clone of the Hubble.

Hubble's life should have ended a while ago, but nasa keeps on extending it.

Re:Hubble (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864306)

It is in no way a clone of the hubble.

Or do I mis some sense of imagination?

Re:Hubble (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864362)

Yep, they forget relativity.

It's all physics.

The faster something goes relatively to you, the slower the object's time will go in your dimension.

Duhhh...

/. Jumped the shark! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864255)

Is there any particular reason that Slashdot now lags a week or more in posting "relevent" news stories? Jumped the shark? I say YES!

MOD PARENT UP!! ITS TRUE!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864414)

Every time I see /. I can't help but saying "Wasn't that on MeFi like a week ago?"

Oh? (2, Funny)

Ensign Regis (249331) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864260)

Were we planning to send them back at some point?

wouldnt it make sense (3, Insightful)

kaltkalt (620110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864267)

wouldn't it make sense to initially plan the mission for as long as the rovers remain operational, however long that may be?

Re:wouldnt it make sense (1)

Dominic_Mazzoni (125164) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864382)

wouldn't it make sense to initially plan the mission for as long as the rovers remain operational, however long that may be?

No, because then the budget would have been too high and the project never would have been funded in the first place. The MER team needed to propose a budget to NASA that was reasonable, so they chose a mission length that was long enough to reach their science goals - 3 months - and then did their best to engineer rovers that could last 2-3 times as long if they're lucky.

Re:wouldnt it make sense (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864419)

wouldn't it make sense to initially plan the mission for as long as the rovers remain operational, however long that may be?

Ideally, yes. However, NASA has limited resources within which to work. In order to get funding approved, NASA missions need to have a dollar figure attached to them such as an N month mission for X billion dollars. Also, every mission which is ongoing requires overhead in the form of personnel, office space, communications channels, etc. Every engineer dedicated to a Mars mission means an engineer unavailable for other projects.

Depending on whether or not the mission succeeds and is likely to discover more information and assuming that other missions don't take higher priority, the mission lifetime can be extended -- at a cost of Y million dollars, M resources, etc... which, again, require approval.

Re:wouldnt it make sense (1)

el-spectre (668104) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864462)

All systems have an expected lifespan... how long until something breaks in a critical way. So, you lowball that number to get a minimum # of days that you can reasonably trust the system, and then prioritize/sequence the events to happen in that time.

If you get bonus days, cool... then the lower prio stuff gets done. But you'd hate to have the "detect life" function scheduled for day 300 and have the batteries run out on 298...

occupation (2, Funny)

mikeg22 (601691) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864269)

I wonder how long until the native get restless, and we get the Martian equivalent of Al'Sadr resisting the occupation?

Re:occupation (1)

susano_otter (123650) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864471)

I guess it all depends on how long until Venus can send over proxy bots of its own, to resist our rovers...

Let's hear it again for JPL (5, Interesting)

Steve the Rocket Sci (770940) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864305)

Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has done it again, it would seem. When the Voyager 1 and 2 missions were launched in 1977, they estimated that they would only last until the encounter with Saturn roughly four years later. Now, in 2004, they are still returning useful data, at a distance of over 90 AU from the Sun (in comparison, Pluto is only 40 AU from it). Sure, they had their problems during the mission, but it looks like Spirit and Opportunity may share a similar quality construction. It's definite that they won't last 27 years, but with how well they are functioning, I think the only limit will be the Martian dust collecting on their solar panels. When they Next Generation Rover lands on Mars in the latter part of this decade, it will hopefully use nuclear power, and overcome this obstacle.

Re:Let's hear it again for JPL (2, Interesting)

m11533 (263900) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864378)

Rather than going nuclear, maybe there is an ingenious way to clear the dust off their solar panels, thus extending their useful lifespan indefinitely. I can't imagine there isn't a solution to that problem... maybe something as "simple" as the ability to rotate the panels into a 90-degree position and then shake. Sure seems much simpler than engineering a nuclear based solution.

Re:Let's hear it again for JPL (3, Interesting)

silentbozo (542534) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864463)

Actually, the nuclear based solution IS the simplest. It's nothing more than a small mass of isotope, a thermocouple, and a pair of wires. It's certainly simpler than a pair of solar panels, or the gyrations you'd need to go through to get rid of the dust coating (electrostatic attraction probably is the factor here.) The Voyager series of probes use these radioisotope-powered thermocouples, and look how long their active life has been.

Re:Let's hear it again for JPL (3, Funny)

El_Smack (267329) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864569)

I think the only limit will be the Martian dust collecting on their solar panels.

Maybe NASA can cut a deal with the DOJ to go easy on Martha Stewart in return for her help on this. If anyone could find a simple, yet attractive solution it's her. Recycle the impact ballons into attractive doilies for the panels or something.

Or even better, get the Anal Retentive Carpenter from SNL to make a nice "Solar Panel Cozy" for it.

exploration? (0)

queenofthe1ring (768698) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864311)

maybe this time we'll get to see more pictures of rocks that they can crash our bazillion$ enterprises in to...

Sweet (1, Funny)

Unregistered (584479) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864325)

Now they can go look for Beagle

End the Occupation!! (-1, Offtopic)

chimericalburst (726539) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864373)

US out of EVERYWHERE!!

Software Issues (5, Informative)

QuantumFTL (197300) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864405)

All the scientists here at JPL are very happy to see that we'll be getting more science, however one of the issues is that we're going to be moving to a less efficient planning cycle, planning for two days per rover at a time. Also it will all be being done on earth time, which is nice for scientists, however it means things have to be planned very far in advance.

Also one of the problems we are experiencing is that a lot of the mission software was originally designed to only run at JPL on our computing environment, and is very difficult to take back to home institutions because it is so specialized.

I'm currently working on making the Science Activity Planner (the tool used by all scientists to do high level planning before they start sequencing) work collaboratively over the web. It's exciting because we're dramatically increasing the amount of people who can participate in high level planning. You can grab the public version, called Maestro, here [telascience.org] .

One of the other challenges is the bandwidth and latency associated with transfering autogenerated data products (imagery etc) to all of our satalite institutions. I'm currently working on ways to reduce the necessary bandwidth but without lossy compression there's only so much one can do.

Anyways, this part of the mission will test out a paradigm known as "Distributed Mission Operations". You can download a paper written by my supervisor about how this was used on Pathfinder here [nasa.gov] .

Future mars missions will last far too long to bring scientists away from their home institutions and pay for temporary housing etc (which is a significant cost). Scientists want to be with their collegues and families during the long periods of exploration.

Hopefully this will prove that it is both feasible and desireable. There are several studies going on about this, but I'm not aware of any relevant links.

Cheers,
Justin Wick
Science Activity Planner Developer
Mars Exploration Rovers

Re:Software Issues (4, Funny)

kitzilla (266382) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864519)

Justin, who names the rocks? You guys are clearly having too much fun in that department.

How about letting Slashdotters name one? C'mon -- nobody will notice. It's just us geeks here.

From a future JPL release:

The rover Opportunity started sol 365 this morning with a quick brush-off of the rock known as "Linux Rules." Later today, Opportunity will turn its attention to another feature, a dull-looking boulder called "SCO Drools."

When they do fail ... (2, Funny)

dnamaners (770001) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864456)

I wonder what could be done with them when they do fail?

my top picks in no particular order:
1.) Auction them off on Ebay (like that channel drill) and make the buyer pick em up. that may help finace the manned mars mission goal ... Russions pickup worlds most expensive a door stop...

2.) Call AAA for a tow, membership has its rewards.

3.) File insurance clames on the loss. Perhaps NASA could cite water damage.

4.) But probably the best use, 3 words, "interstellar p0rn server". Lets "spread" our culture among the stars. That of course would require NASA still be able to upload a "firm ware" upgrade.

*brain is: [ ] in, [ X ] out to lunch, [ ] gone home for the day

windshield wipers and Fords in space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864484)

Well I mean c'mon ... if the solar panels are really dusting over - just put a scratch resistant coating on them, and toss some windshield wipers on those bad boys.

I mean hell we already use airbags to land 'em, before too long we'll just be strapping a Ford to a rocket and sending it on it's way.

Though the martians may be really pissed off when we start leaking oil all over the place...

excessive lifetimes (3, Funny)

Dr. Mojura (584120) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864490)

while the rovers look poised to greatly exceed their planned life cycle, they could basically die at any time.

Kinda like Dick Clark?

Is anyone else as amazed by these things as I am? (3, Insightful)

BRSQUIRRL (69271) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864536)

Every day or so, I head over to this site [nasa.gov] to check out the latest images. Some of the high-res color photos look like something I could have shot with my digital camera out in the desert somewhere, but then I remember: they were taken on ANOTHER FREAKING PLANET. It really is a amazing thing to be alive to see. The folks at NASA and the JPL should be proud of themselves.
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