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Mars Rovers Have Incorrect Instruments Installed

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the maybe-they-should-have-given-them-different-paint-jobs dept.

Mars 294

Christopher Reimer writes "The New Scientist is reporting that the twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, has instruments installed in the wrong rovers. From the article: 'While the bungle does not undermine the main scientific conclusions drawn from the data collected by the rovers, it is an embarrassing slip-up for a space agency that once lost a Mars spacecraft because engineers mixed up metric and imperial units.'"

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294 comments

Man (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850521)

Who knew being a rocket scientist was so tough.

Cain't never tell them kids apart... (5, Funny)

mactov (131709) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850578)

At least they landed 'em on the right planet.

Re:Cain't never tell them kids apart... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850736)

Such a Patty Duke [culttelly.co.uk] moment.

If... (0, Redundant)

bird603568 (808629) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850522)

they would have made them identicle execpt for the APXS thing we wouldn't have the problem. Also do they look alike or very similar? If they dont thats crazy.

Re:If... (1, Flamebait)

Tethys_was_taken (813654) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850530)

RTFA. NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit are identical twins It's the first goddamn line...

Re:If... (0, Troll)

bird603568 (808629) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850543)

then how was one arm desinged for one? If they were identical you cant design something for only one because it is also designed for the other?

Re:If... (2, Interesting)

Tethys_was_taken (813654) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850561)

Even though the designs of the rovers are identical, the instruments themselves are not. The article says so. Each instrument was calibrated to behave properly in one rover. When the instruments were swapped, the readings from them were incorrect.

Re:If... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850581)

Why are they calibrated differently each rover is EXACTLY THE SAME? Thats like getting to cars with the same make, model and specs but when wo swap the motors it goes 30 mph it makes no fucking sense.

Re:If... (1)

Ianoo (711633) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850595)

It's impossible with current technology to build such an instrument exactly the same. It's only after building that you can calibrate them and get accurate readings from them.

Re:If... (5, Informative)

Tolookah (837210) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850613)

one word: Tolerances.

when you have 100 resistors at 0.5% tolerance, you are gonna have drift, and you will have to calibrate them to the right parts, you can make 100's of those cars of the same make and model, but none will be exactly the same, especially when you have sensitive equipment. (Think odometer)

Re:If... (4, Informative)

UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850650)

Damn your Dumb! Read before posting dumb things. No two things are exactly the same even if designed as such. And yes you can get in two identical cars and one will perform different.

It's a calibration, the whole concept is no two things are the same. Any piece of instrumentation needs to be calibrated and that calibration is set for that device. No manufacturing can produce 2 identical things, just not possible since the two items could not share the same time and space in the universe together thus both are going to be slightly different.

Anytime you get a piece of gear, you get it setup, then you take some means of calibrating it and test it with something that has deemed to be as accurate as possible. Maybe some source such as a rock. But basically anything that will provide a common test basis for the device.

So say you are measuring temperatures on something in a lab. You set up a big system for collecting data off a bunch of thermocouples. Each one has it's own channel through it's own voltage modules and thermocouples and so forth. So you take a calibrator and have it feed a signal through the system to mimic a thermocouple. you get a calibration curve for a channel, then you go to the next channel with the same device and do the same for the next channel, this will be a different calibration. and then you work through them all. I have system set up with 16 channels at work and all use the same parts, but there is about 4 closely similar calibrations across the channels, but no two channels follow the same calibration.

NASA did the same, they built the devices, then calibrated them with the same rocks, and developed a calibration curve for each system, and that was to be kept with each rover, they swapped the instruments, so now they switch the calibrations and everything is fine.

This all goes back to simple accuracy and how close you can get things, but bottom line no two things are the same. Look at computers, you can have 100 computers, exactly the same built right in a row, with the exact same software and so forth. Turn them on and let the run under exact same conditions, some will have hardware failures, some will have software get wacky on them and so forth. It's just the way it works.

Re:If... (3, Funny)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850683)

No manufacturing can produce 2 identical things, just not possible since the two items could not share the same time and space in the universe together thus both are going to be slightly different.

Oh, come on! It's easy!

ln rover_1 rover_2

See?

Re:If... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850737)

Damn your Dumb!

'Nuff said.

I want to fight for NASA but come on... (0, Troll)

moofdaddy (570503) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850525)

I really want to support NASA, i lvoe the space agency, i love space exploration. It is a nessasary compoenent of being a human, of being an adventurer. But come on, give me something to work with. It is getting hard to support NASA, it is getting hard to advocate for them when they keep fucking things up.

How can i possibly advocate for a mars mission when they can't even get this shit right?

Re:I want to fight for NASA but come on... (4, Insightful)

kaiser423 (828989) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850557)

Why is it hard to support them when they're in the middle of a hugely successful Mars mission?

No one outside the community even noticed this until recently, and in the end it really made no difference. So where's the beef?

Re:I want to fight for NASA but come on... (3, Funny)

zulux (112259) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850572)

How can i possibly advocate for a mars mission when they can't even get this shit right?


How can I possibly listen to you when you cant even used the shift key properly.

Re:I want to fight for NASA but come on... (1)

Mistlefoot (636417) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850597)

"How can I possibly listen to you when you cant even used the shift key properly."

If you had enough intelligence to use the apostrophe key in the word can't maybe your opinion would have merit.

Those in glass houses......

Re:I want to fight for NASA but come on... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850653)

because he lvoe's you.

Re:I want to fight for NASA but come on... (4, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850667)

RTFA. NASA swapped the instruments inadvertently but since both the rovers and the detectors are manufactured identically the only consequence was that we were using the calibration data file from one instrument to analyze the data coming from the other. Swap the calibration files so they are coupled to the correct instruments again, reanalyze the raw data, and the problem is solved without having to privatize NASA.

How can i possibly advocate for a mars mission when they can't even get this shit right?

The Mars mission is stupid but not for the reason you give.

Grammar? (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850526)

Do they even read what they write? has, not have?

Re:Grammar? (1)

stevenrnelson (865039) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850701)

Actually since "Mars Rovers" is a plural subject, the plural verb "have" must be used instead of the singular verb "has".

Puddnhead Wilson Goes to Mars (2, Funny)

rkmath (26375) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850532)

Subject says it all - mod me down if you have never read Mark Twain :)

Confusion...Why differing configurations? (3, Interesting)

Alpha_Traveller (685367) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850534)

Creeping errors
Although their designs are identical, each instrument is unique because of quirks in the materials they are made from. So before the rovers were launched, each instrument was calibrated using known rock samples. The measurements from each rover are then processed using the calibration files, but because of the mix-up, researchers were using the wrong ones. As a result, small errors have crept into the APXS results, affecting measurements of sodium, magnesium and aluminium abundance.
Perhaps someone can clarify this statement? (Since I am not an engineer, eh?)... I'm wondering why it's so important to have differing configurations for the sensors in the first place. Wouldn't it be wise to collect exactly the same kind of information regardless of how complex if it's all being sent via transmission back to us anyway? Wouldn't it be extremely important to have the exact same configuration on BOTH sensors? I would think the end result would be useful when comparing the chemical composition of any particular area. It would be like hacking off a sensor "at the knees" when you had no significant reason to do so wouldn't it?

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (4, Informative)

theparanoidcynic (705438) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850548)

It's not intentional. Building something exactly to spec is impossible. The sensors are not identical for this reason. Not really a problem when you do a proper calibration.

Of course, it becomes a problem when you use the wrong calibration curve for the sensor.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (1)

Alpha_Traveller (685367) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850587)

Ah..I misunderstood that part. Thanks. The configurations are different to produce more accurate results because of minute unintentional differences in the specs. Gotcha.

I wonder then -- This part wasn't discussed although the rovers are still operational: Is it impossible to upload the correct configuration at this point? (aside from the past data being re-calculated against the correct config).

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850647)

They don't need to upload the files to the rovers because they're getting raw data here on Earth. They simply need to switch the calibration data in the software.

This is not a major thing. Yes, all the data collected from these sensors will have to be re-analyzed, but that should be a simple thing.

Contractors... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850648)

Building something exactly to spec is impossible.

I know... the contractors we hired to build our house built an outhouse instead of a house. Well, we'll give them credit for taking initiative and being innovative.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (1)

Bri3D (584578) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850570)

The sensors are calibrated so that scientists on Earth know exactly how much of each mineral/rock there is in a sample, not just relative amounts. What I don't understand is why this is a big deal. If the sensor files are calibrated on Earth after we get the raw sensor data the people at NASA can take their old raw data and run it through the right calibrator. If the calibration is done on the rovers(which would be stupid) or they lost the raw data(stupider) they could run the data through a reverse calibrator on earth and then recalibrate it.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (1)

Jack Porter (310054) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850657)

From the article:

Fortunately, now that the goof-up has been spotted, it is easily fixed by reanalysing the raw data with the right calibration. Corrected values for the first year's data will be available soon, says Steve Squyres, the chief scientist for the rovers.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (5, Insightful)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850716)

What I don't understand is why this is a big deal.

It isn't a big deal. Instead of "Mars Rovers Have Incorrect Instruments Installed", a better headline would have been "Mars Rover Data Analyzed With Incorrect Calibration Data Files". But the editors would have rejected a headline like that.

It's true that the swap occurred when the instruments were installed. But it's really just a matter of semantics whether you consider the instruments to be swapped in the rovers on Mars, or their calibration files to be swapped in a computer's filesystem on Earth. Once the swap is discovered, it's over.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (5, Informative)

araemo (603185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850601)

The sensors are built and configured the same, and the raw data they collect is sent back to earth.

However, nothing is perfect, and each sensor has slight imperfections. Before they were sent up, each sensor was measured so that those imperfections could be accounted for. This calibration data is unique to each sensor. They used the calibration data for Spirit on the data from Opportunity, and vice versa. Luckily, since they still have the original(un-corrected, raw) data, it is easy to correct.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (5, Informative)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850637)

Identical parts are not exact duplicates. Go to Radio Shack and buy some resistors, all marked for the same value. Take them home and measure their actual values with a multi-meter. You will find that the measured values are scattered over a range that is centered on the marked value of the resistors. That's why each resistor has a tolerance specification. For example, a resistor may be marked 47 ohms, plus or minus 5%. The value of the resistor is guaranteed to lie within that range. It isn't guaranteed to be 47 ohms. The same thing applies to capacitors, transistors, and other parts. Circuits built from these parts inherit some of the variability of their component parts.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850694)

In the old days, if you bought a carbon +/-10% resistor, you could be assured that it was either -10% to -5% or +5% to +10%, and almost never in-between. The reason? They'd mark the ones that fell between as +/-5% and sell them for more moeny.

This doesn't work for +/-5% and the next grade (+/-1%) because the parts are built differently.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (0, Troll)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850640)

Rectal thermometers are all designed the same, but they must be shoved up a known asshole to be considered reliable.

Karma, whats that?

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850734)

Although their designs are identical, each instrument is unique because of quirks in the materials they are made from.
Although their designs are identical, each instrument is unique because of quirks in the materials they are made from.
Although their designs are identical, each instrument is unique because of quirks in the materials they are made from.

Re:Confusion...Why differing configurations? (4, Informative)

gilroy (155262) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850771)

Blockquoth the poster:

I'm wondering why it's so important to have differing configurations for the sensors in the first place.

As a science teacher, I weep. For any instrument, it's important to perform calibration: to check the instrument against known samples, values, whatever, so that you can take the unique response of the instrument and convert it into a believable interpretation of the data. Every instrument has its own peculiarities, resulting from the (essentially unknowable) history of the construction of the instrument. Most of these features are entirely unimportant, if you know about them. So you run calibrations and figure out how to correct for the individual features.

NASA did its job here, in that the instruments were calibrated. Yay. Then they mixed up the instruments and installed package A into rover B, meaning the calibrations were in fact wrong. Luckily they keep all the raw data, so they can simply run it through the correct calibration filter now. Double yay.

But for all those saying "This is a small thing.": Wrong. They mixed up an entire package. Didn't it occur to anyone to actually, you know, label the two? Or to in fact make sure they weren't in the same lab at the same time? Or if that proved impossible, to keep track of which was which? Or to -- oh, I don't know -- check which package they were installing?

Excusing this as "just a minor thing" is akin to minimizng a case where you fall asleep while driving and are awakened by the rumble strips on the side of the road. Sure, you fell asleep. But you woke up and no one was hurt. No harm, no foul, right?

A minor screw up on its own, it still speaks volumes about NASA's continuing inability to cross all the t's and dot all the i's. And it's a pretty close relative to the error that cost us Mars Observer.

nah... (5, Funny)

Arctic Dragon (647151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850535)

They instruments were installed correctly on Earth. It's the Martians that switched them as a prank. :-)

Re:nah... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850630)

Could explain how the solar panels were dusted earlier in the mission...

here's hoping... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850727)

that the martians pull this prank [geonet.org.nz] on Mars instead of White crater in NZ.

Re:nah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850764)

I was thinking something similar read I read the statement "We know when it happened". Two scenarios came to mind:

(1) You do, do you now? Or you just think you do?

Sheet, was that Spirit's instrument in my left arm, or Opportunity's? Darn it, should have labeled them before I tripped and hurrily placed them on the table then knocked them over. Damn, I was so sure it was Spirit's that was on the top and then got knocked over. Oh well.

(2) Fellow installs them properly. Leaves door open. Janitor passing by whose been overlooked and annoyed by snide comments over the years but secretly knows more of the goings on sees his opportunity to strike back.

btw, these guys never heard about serial numbering even custom parts? Friggin dozens of ways to mark all sorts of parts non-destructively and semi-permanently.

wrong parts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850537)

So the male is really female and vice versa?

I guess this isn't the first time geeks get confused about parts and mix them up...

I keep telling NASA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850546)

...Delete the Appearance Group and just have the #$@% pinstriping done in Tijuana. But did they listen to me? NOooo.

A very minor issue... (4, Insightful)

Roached (84015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850547)

It annoys me that so much is made of this problem. This in no way compares to the lost spacecraft error, it's simply a calibration adjustment to a sensor. I think the fact that they have two rovers that have performed extremely well under harsh conditions 4x over their rated life is an incredible accomplishment. This just sounds like someone looking for sensationalism in a non-issue.

Yeah, but see, it's NASA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850645)

When NASA makes a mistake the howls of glee echo across England for a long, long time. Whereas when, say, Beagle, craps out, those same howling gumbies go strangely silent. Weird.

I saw this on TV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850549)

It's like the evil KITT From Knight Rider.

Not wrong, but swapped (5, Informative)

dcclark (846336) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850550)

To clarify the summary: it's not that the WRONG instruments were installed, but that the SAME instruments were installed but calibrated for the OPPOSITE rovers. So, the data have been slightly off in a predictable way. In the end, it's not too surprising nor is it devastating. The data is still valid and is being readjusted.

Re:Not wrong, but swapped (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850646)

New Scientist is a tabloid for science. They are like The Register for computers and The National Inquirer for, uhm. WTF is The Inquirer about? Anyway, these tabloids rely on making mountains out of molehills. I just wish Slashdot just would ignore them. Nearly all of articles on Slashdot linked to the New Scientist are sensationalist BS.

Re:Not wrong, but swapped (3, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850766)

They are like The Register for computers and The National Inquirer for, uhm. WTF is The Inquirer about?

For that matter, WTF is Slashdot about?

Embarrassing slip-up (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850562)

The whole program has been a great cock up, unlike that wonderful shuttle program of ours.

No big deal... (4, Informative)

SteeldrivingJon (842919) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850576)


They're the same device on each machine, with the same function. The only problem has been that the data received has been interpreted with the wrong calibration adjustments. Swap the calibration adjustments and rerun the data, and it'll be correct.

It would have been far worse if, say, one had a spectroscope and the other had a *drill*, and they were swapped, and each rover couldn't use the other's tool. And in that kind of a switch, it would be really bad, because the two devices would be visually distinct. But the swapping of two devices that are 99.99% identical, on two rovers that are identical, is no big thing.

Compared to the fact that the rovers are still running long after they were expected to die, this is a tiny, tiny thing.

Re:No big deal... (3, Insightful)

MBCook (132727) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850680)

It would have been far worse if...

See, that's what I thought happened at first. I assumed it was something like one had an X-Ray detector while the other had a mass-spectrometer or something (I would think NASA could tell the difference between a drill and a spectroscope). It was nothing of the sort, they got the calibration files mixed up between the rovers (technically the rovers mixed up between the calibration files, but it's the same end result).

This isn't journalism, this is headline mongering. Especially throwing in that metric/imperal thing. This would be journalism if it was "NASA discovers error in rover calibrations, corrects data". Since they have all the raw data they just stick it back through the computer and it's like it never happened.

Instead they try to make the public think NASA screwed up big again, like where one rover was supposed to have a camera and the other some kind of gas meter and they swapped 'em.

You can argue about whether there is bias in the media (and whether it's liberal or conservative), but the BIGGEST problem is crap like this. Why report the good stuff ("US troops build new school in Iraq despite RPG fire") when you can report just the bad ("US troops attached by RPG fire"). The former spokesman (he was temporary, can't remember name or title) for the Bush administration recently said that this was what he thought was wrong with the media in this country first and foremost, and I agree. I just wish whoever submitted this to /. had found a less sensationalistic source to link to rather than promoting this kind of crap.

Re:No big deal... (5, Interesting)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850696)

"Compared to the fact that the rovers are still running long after they were expected to die, this is a tiny, tiny thing."

Except for the fact that the same organization that made this error is designing other spacecraft. If they don't get to the root causes of the problem, like the failure of the technicians to properly follow the correct procedure to install the instrument and the failure of any other engineer or management to catch their failure to follow procedure, much larger problems could occur. Lets examine a couple of JPL's problem's in the last couple of years:

Galileo: High power antenna failed to deploy resulting in a much lower data transfer rate. This was due to technical specifications in the lubrication of the antenna not being reviewed when the project was delayed.
Mars Climate Orbiter: Burned up because the technical requirements were not met (converting from BES to metric).
Mars Polar Lander: Lost on landing. Cause is not known. Project team was rushed in accordance with faster, better, cheaper plan.
Genesis: Failed to deploy parachute and crashed on landing due to technical requirements not being met (backwards specification for G-force meters).
Mars Exploration Rovers: Software glitch early in mission due to failure to test software for its entire expected lifespan. Instruments swapped due to failure to follow procedure.

Some things we can get out of this analysis are that the QA was unsatisfactory. Procedures were not followed. Technical specifications were not verified. The culture was rushed (go-fever or product push environment). None of these are small problems, but they also point to much bigger problems: failure of the leadership to properly plan the project so that rushed timelines would not occur. This same culture is building new spacecraft. While JPL is a great agency and they do tremendous and incredible feats, they are not perfect and have lost several spacecraft and have had severe faults in others. These problems did not have to occur and more importantly these problems do not have to occur again in the future.

Re:No big deal... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850776)

Mars Exploration Rovers: Software glitch early in mission due to failure to test software for its entire expected lifespan. Instruments swapped due to failure to follow procedure.

The Trashy Fucking File System (TFFS) has bitten many projects, and the response from WindRiver is "We can't fix it." Which they can't. They bought TFFS from someone else. And they can't fix it.. for some reason. It's really a pain in the ass and the "loss of a flash file system" happens infrequently enough that it is possible for it to pass QA.

Root Cause (5, Insightful)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850582)

While the lead scientist says that it wasn't a big deal and no investigation will be held, I think he isn't analyzing the significance of this event. While scientists are more focused on the validity of data, engineers have to analyze not just events that occur (like loss of a rover), but also events that could occur. Putting the wrong instrument into a rover is due to "failure to follow procedure". This is a big deal. Failure to follow procedures could have been caught by a better QA system, better monitoring of the installation, and better training (including walkthroughs on the installation of the instruments).

Even though this minor event that has had no impact on the mission, it has shown that there are holes in JPL's QA system, their monitoring system, and their training program for building these rovers. If you want to dig further you might find that all of these problems were caused by an unnecessary sense of urgency which may have been caused by poor project planning. These exact problems have caused the loss of spacecraft before (and many of them were cited for the loss of Challenger and Columbia).

No investigation? The lead scientist really needs to take a look at his project management priorities. Having experience working in nuclear power I have learned and have been trained that small problems are many times the only symptoms of much larger problems. The lead scientist's attitude on the problem gives me no confidence in his ability to run a more complicated mission. Like in gambling, one or two successes doesn't mean that you are going to win on the next roll.

Re:Root Cause (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850627)

I agree completely. It's getting so bad that the best course of action could almost be to fire everyone at NASA and start over. Maybe they should pull some Apollo engineers out of retirement to act as recruiters; they at least knew how to make and follow procedures!

Re:Root Cause (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850684)

Get over it. The Apollo era NASA had a lot more money and people. They could afford to do things the right way, with multiple backup systems and extensive testing and QA. They still made mistakes, just not as many. You want cheap space exploration? You've got cheap space exploration. Don't bitch that they didn't deliver a Ferrari when you only paid for a Chevy.

Re:Root Cause (2, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850717)

Fair enough. But can I bitch that I paid for a Corvette, and ended up with a Chevette instead?

Re:Root Cause - female hiring directives (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850672)

Forced hiring and promotion quota directives based on GENDER alone disregarding all merit or skill are the problem all the way through the entire new "females first" NASA.

Its a concrete fact

Lots of citiations exist, and its such a shame.

The mars missions are majority led by female engineers and psuedo engineers.

Re:Root Cause (1)

cetialphav (246516) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850741)

I agree. I don't want to jump on NASA because of the mixup. These things happen, and it is great (or lucky) that this problem has an easy workaround.

But there was a clear, identifiable flaw in the system. They should not just shrug it off because there was no harm done. This is just asking for another disaster.

Mistake are one thing, but pretending that a mistake is a one-off incident instead of an indication of a flaw in the system is even worse.

Cat calls from the cheap seats (4, Interesting)

amightywind (691887) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850591)

Let the New Scientist criticize from the cheap seats. It is hard to argue that the rovers have been anything other than a resounding success for over 400 days. I would have hoped /. would instead print the recent story of the Spirit Rover discovering salty soil. [spaceflightnow.com]

Re:Cat calls from the cheap seats (0, Troll)

wizard_of_wor (849406) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850649)

Slashdot filters out any good news about America and Americans. Had China sent the rover, the headline would have been: "Chinese Engineers Overcome Technical Glitch To Gather Groundbreaking Data" ... and you would have had thirty posts reading, "Way to go, China! America would have screwed it up."

Precisely. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850718)

The same people who are laughing about this error were strangely silent regarding the Beagle fuck-up. Can't imagine why, can you?

Something fishy here... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850593)

"There was a point when both of them were sitting on the same bench, and that has to have been it."

Wouldn't they have been labeled, what does this have to do with anything?

They've already reprocessed the data! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850603)

Turns out they really landed on Uranus.

Little known fact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850607)

Pathfinder also carried an APXS, but the data was largely worthless because the Germans who made the instrument didn't bother calibrating it at all.

This doesn't effect results (3, Informative)

Monkey_Genius (669908) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850608)

From the JPL website: "Meanwhile, scientists are re-calibrating data from both rovers' alpha particle X-ray spectrometers. These instruments are used to assess targets' elemental composition. The sensor heads for the two instruments were switched before launch. Therefore, data that Opportunity's spectrometer has collected have been analyzed using calibration files for Spirit's, and vice-versa. Fortunately, because the sensor heads are nearly identical, the effect on the elemental abundances determined by the instruments was very small. The scientists have taken this opportunity to go back and review the results for the mission so far and re-compute using correct calibration files. "The effect in all cases was less than the uncertainties in results, so none of our science conclusions are affected," Squyres said." It would have been more serious if they had lost the calibrations on the instruments.

I know the REAL cause calibration Errors. Hiring! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850612)

This instrumentation calibration error issue does not surprise me, and if it were work hours I'd be making a couple phone calls to bolster my own guess at the root cause.

There reason the MAJORITY of recent mars missions failed is gender and race bias in hiring and promotion against whites and asians.

Vital FACT! Nasa switched to forced female hiring in most of the recent Mars failures.

For the first time ever ONLY WOMEN called the shots on the largest mars mission that failed. read :

http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/ 04 1899nasa-women.html

for the first time ever all three KEY positions of the failed mars missions were female :
Sarah A. Gavit = the mars project manager
Suzanne E. Smrekar, 37, the lead mars scientist
Kari A. Lewis= the mars project's chief engineer

Current hiring rules from the new top level NASA female administration dictate this new female forced hiring policy.

NASA has hiring policies that try to hire women DESPITE IQ or experience. In fact they now PREVENT job related award honors and bonuses based on how many females you hire and how many females and black contractors you hire!!! This is a fact!

NASA publicly has stated this from the woman in charge. I can't tell you about my own memos.

NASA is proud to boast 2% female active engineers minimum and that is WAY out of whack with societies norms.
The mars missions are even more than 2% female.

The average IQ of a Caucasian US Male holding a medical degree is IQ 124, but as the front page of the San Jose Mercury proclaimed in huge block letter headlines, and millions of IQ scores show (see the Bell Curve book data), the chance of a FEMALE obtaining a test score of 124 is EIGHT TIMES LESS LIKELY than an equivalent male. EIGHT TIMES LESS LIKELY. Conversely very low IQ people are almost always males. The average IQ is the same for both genders 100, but the IQ distribution bell curves are dramatically different shapes.

NASA boasts a female-minority web site documenting how not only are contractors hired by whether or not they are female or black but what state their small companies reside in! NASA apparently requires all 50 states to have minority participation in parts design and supply for the mars missions! REGARDLESS of competence! Sex and race are the prime criteria for 1999. Check out NASA own detailed list of female and minority small contractors at : http://sbir.nasa.gov. SBIR is a euphemistic acronym for small business innovation research, but as you can easily see it is actually a gender and race quota based system spearheaded by the new women helping to run NASA now.

from the female mars leader :
"Women have really added to the workplace because we do come at things from a different angle," she said.
"For the same reason that cultural diversity works, gender diversity is wonderful, too, especially when you're trying to do something creative."

Also from the female mars leader Gavit:

"The fact that we're women hasn't made a difference," she said. "It's not an issue here. But it's good that young girls see that engineering and technical fields are wide open to women. That's the good thing about saying it's a woman-led team."

The report in The Guardian (British) December 7th a couple years ago included the following comment: "The total launch and development costs of NASA's lost Mars spacecraft is put at $320 million.

Forced hiring of women disregarding IQ score or talent created this staggering $320 million loss and many more female related losses are already in the works.

Kennedy Space Center rents out IMAX II theaters for a wizbang "Take Our Daughters To Work Day" the recent theme was about how the shuttle is now COMMANDED by a female and last years motto was "The Future is Me".

Even study grants awarded from NASA are targeted to females now at expense of males : refer to Federal Register: September 16, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 179)] NASA Grants and Cooperative Agreements; Proposed Rule.

And if you get a study grant you are actively promoted to put the forwarded funds in women controlled banks! Really : gov/us/fed/nara/fed-register/1999/sep/16/64FR50333 /part4
Posting-number: Volume 64, Issue 179, Page 50333, Part 1.

Affirmative action (quota-based hiring) is being used to hire less qualified personnel in NASA and its in their own many public documents.

I cannot get a good pay promotion this year (or last) unless I DOCUMENT how I actively promoted females in my department and tried to hire them. I am not making this up!

No matter how good a job managers do, unless they hire lower IQ non-whites and non-females at expense of higher qualified white male or asian engineers I get no promotions.

Blacks and female engineers are actually hired to not engineer, but sometimes to help recruit more females in engineering : for example
Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, Janis Davis-Street, Tony Bruins System Engineer/Integrator,Jennifer Murray, Biomedical Engineer, Janice Everett, and Ruth Simmons, were paid tax dollars to periodically
talk about how NASA needs even MORE females and black engineers : http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ltc/special/mlk99/

Other females to blame :
Lori B. Garver = Associate Administrator for NASA's Office of Policy and Plans, Executive Secretary of Advisory Council (She does *not* have an engineering degree!)

These multiple mars failures are all clearly the "new female Regime" results. Or perhaps we forgot to put any heaters on the explosive bolts preventing cruise stage separation causing the DS2 and lander to burn up in the atmosphere on the previous joke-of-a-mission.

But time after time, we fail to hire the correct engineers for these mars missions. Guess why?

Anyway, there are many reasons current projects cost so much at NASA, and its primarily management directives. Nasa spends more money in meetings in one afternoon than the entire cost of achieving the X-prize last year, without nasa or USA intervention (other than free confirmation of trajectory). But NASA is nearly dead anyway, and their irrational bias in hiring quotas is most of the problem.

PLEASE learn and read. I posted facts, solid facts. Or is this forum too "politically correct" to allow uncensored HONEST fact based remarks?

signed,
Intelligent White Male

Re:I know the REAL cause calibration Errors. Hirin (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850747)

The average IQ of a Caucasian US Male holding a medical degree is IQ 124, but as the front page of the San Jose Mercury proclaimed in huge block letter headlines, and millions of IQ scores show (see the Bell Curve book data), the chance of a FEMALE obtaining a test score of 124 is EIGHT TIMES LESS LIKELY than an equivalent male. EIGHT TIMES LESS LIKELY. Conversely very low IQ people are almost always males. The average IQ is the same for both genders 100, but the IQ distribution bell curves are dramatically different shapes.
IQ doesn't necessarily translate into real world performance, that's why it is typically not used as a metric for jobs. You can argue experience and education which are more reliable metrics for performance, however, you did not provide facts based on that.
Also, I didn't realize there were no missions that exploded or failed before women were put in charge. Were there no men at all involved in any parts of the project, or who had the responsibility of oversight at some level (ie 2nd tier managers)? Although the top level managers were women, at some level probably some men screwed up too.
I'm not going to argue about the impact of gender/minority based hiring policies, I'm just saying your conclusions in this specific case are flawed. At the highest levels managers are responsible for higher level management practices, not individual screw-ups. Your arguement is along the lines of holding the CEO of IBM responsible because your laptop had a too many bad pixels.
There are high level issues that do need to be addressed. I see the Mars Spacecraft loss as part of an overall epidemic of poor execution and quality control at NASA. Hubble, Columbia, Challenger, Galileo, Cassini, etc. all had issues, you can't just hold one project that happened to be completely managed by women and say "See the problem is women."
NASA itself is in trouble, and I'd venture to guess it's alot deeper than it's hiring practices.

Mixed up units (4, Informative)

eikonoklastes (530797) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850619)

>once lost a Mars spacecraft because engineers mixed up metric and imperial units.

I'm getting pretty tired of this sound (text?) bite the media throws out. It wasn't mixed up units; it was error accumulation from switching back and forth between the units.

Re:Mixed up units (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850677)


"I'm getting pretty tired of this sound (text?) bite the media throws out. It wasn't mixed up units; it was error accumulation from switching back and forth between the units."

Which is a consequence of mixing them, and the OP's point.

Re:Mixed up units (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850725)

Which is a consequence of mixing them, and the OP's point.

Bzzzt. The OP post "engineers mixed up metric and imperial units" is not the same. Oh wait, I see, this is a troll doing exactly what the post is complaining about. You got me.

Yeah, but the facts make it harder to bash NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850705)

Bashing NASA, and by association the USA, is important because it makes me feel better about the fact that my own nation can't even successfully build, for example, cars which don't leak oil and need to be pushed to a garage everytime I go out to buy bread or milk.

Close fucking call (0, Flamebait)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850623)

If we hadn't caught this error, we might have thought that they had weapons of mass destruction and wasted a few hundred billion dollars in a crusade to kill tens of thousands of freeze-dried martians.

No, it's still stupid (0)

eander315 (448340) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850639)

Put a Post-It note on each one, problem solved. Why must everything be so difficult?

Re:No, it's still stupid (3, Insightful)

cetialphav (246516) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850714)

Right, a Post-It. On a spacecraft to Mars? These are highly sensitive one of a kind instruments. You don't just go sticking paper and glue all over it.

Post-Its are not static dissipative. You could have a static discharge damage components and you wouldn't even know until the rover had landed on Mars. You could accidently leave a Post-It on the spacecraft and cause damage. How do you know residue from the glue on the Post-It won't cause damage? Now you have to test for that. It is amazing how one stupid thing like a Post-It note could add more complexity and make things even worse.

Now what would have been smart is to have devices like this keyed so that they can't possible be installed in the wrong place. But that tends to add complexity to the design and when you are only building a handful of rovers in highly controlled conditions, it can be hard to justify.

What is stupid is that there is no investigation of what happened. Sure, in this case the mixup was relatively harmless, but the next one might not be. NASA needs to be more proactive and not wait until things blow up to have an investigation. I don't expect perfection, but they at least have to understand their flaws.

Re:No, it's still stupid (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850783)

NASA is no longer the lightfooted space arm of the United States Federal Government. Hasn't been since the last Apollo mission came home. It has become just as hidebound and moribund as any other major government bureaucracy, and as unwilling to accept criticism.

Hats Off to NASA (5, Insightful)

Orphaze (243436) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850644)

So, let me get this straight: NASA has managed to successfully send two completely functional rovers to the planet Mars 45 million miles away. Since they have arrived, the two rovers have expanded our understanding of the planet greatly and have had few and mostly correctable errors. They are now way, way past their expected mission time and are still running, and a few people have the nerve around to here to bash NASA for their horrible, numerous mistakes?

This stuff isn't easy. Just because you reap the benefits of the entire space program from your living room couch via the TV without actually contributing one bit does not mean you have any understanding of how complex and spectacular these great accomplishments are.

To the NASA / JPL engineers and scientists: Thanks.

Re:Hats Off to NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850655)

"Just because you reap the benefits of the entire space program from your living room couch via the TV without actually contributing one bit does not mean you have any understanding of how complex and spectacular these great accomplishments are."

The other occupant of my living room happens to be a scientist who did contribute, in a small way, by doing a year's worth of iterative trials for killing certain strains of bacteria. But then, I'm not criticizing anything about NASA, particularly not when research grants from them are a piece of what keeps me afloat economically :-)

gna4 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850661)

inventingU excuse5 If you answered anybody's guess

In other news: (4, Funny)

Viceice (462967) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850671)

A hermit writes: "The Church is reporting that the two human genders, male and female, have instruments installed in the wrong genders. From the article: 'While the bungle does not undermine the main reproductive conclusions from the reproductive activities between genders, it is an embarrassing slip-up for a supreme being that once lost a world of worshippers to a flood because the first prototypes mixed up good and evil.'"

Obviously, NASA is broke (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850687)

Wow.

A couple of minor flubups, here and there, are to be expected. But NASA has been fucking up often, and enormously, as of late (~5yrs). They need to scrap the entire fucking thing, and rebuild it from scratch. Fucking fire everyone, and then rehire them in their new job position.

And, they need to stop this lowest bidder shit. That used to work, but it's gone too far. Too many bean counters in a row, saying 99% is close enough to 100%. It's been 20 iterations, and you're running on 80% now.

Swap NASA out. It's a failed part...

Finish giggling about poor, dumb NASA... (2, Insightful)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850700)

Then ask yourself how many times identical twins that you've known managed to play some trick on you.

And can we tone down the headline sensationalism a bit? You'd think the rovers have a core drill where there should be a camera or something. They somehow managed to switch two spectrometers, as identical as modern metallurgy can make them, destined for two similarly identical rovers - and now the error's been uncovered and the data recomputed. Jeesh...

Hit it! (3, Funny)

dexter riley (556126) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850720)

Because they're rovers,
Identical rovers, you will find...
They look alike, they rove alike,
They even calibrate alike!
(Should I put this alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer in you...or you? Whoooaaaa!)
You will lose your mind!
When rovers...are two of a kind!

Identical Rovers! Tuesdays at 8 on SCTV!

Re:Hit it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850758)

But does a hot dog make one lose control? [culttelly.co.uk] (It was the 60s, do you think that they really meant .. nah.)

one can always find fault... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850732)

but lets keep it in perspective... these people PUT ROVERS ON MARS

a whole boatload of things had to go exactly correct for it to work at all. to find one chink in the system and think of it as a screwup is like looking at the -- well I can't think of anything it's like, but it's lame.

... (the subject isn't missing... it's just dots) (1)

andreyw (798182) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850740)

...Again? I swear, everytime I hear news about something launched in the space, there are follow up stories about YAMUF (Yet Another Measurement Unit Farkup).

Strange... (1)

isny (681711) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850743)

I hear the same thing happened to the Olsen twins.
Don't ask me...I'm not sure what it means either.

Why did they use imperial in the first place? (1)

Legodude522 (847797) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850756)

Why did they use imperial in the first place? Scientist are supposed to always use metric.

Mars Rover?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11850767)

Who cares, tell us about Mars Volta.

'Bungle' is a bit too harsh... (2, Informative)

Frennzy (730093) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850775)

Calling this oversight a bungle is a bit too harsh...for those who didn't read the article, it also says:

their mission has been considered an unqualified success. Spirit and Opportunity provided the first irrefutable evidence that there was once liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet and are still roaming long after their scheduled 90-day mission.


Once the mistake was realized, they could easily accomodate it through other calibration techniques. I think the parent article is trying to raise a sandstorm in an otherwise rarefied atmosphere.

Nothing to see here... (0, Troll)

CtrlPhreak (226872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11850782)

Bounce a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish
Thats the way we do things, lad, we're making shit up as we wish

yeah nasa...
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