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Spirit Rover Reaches Safety 147

Posted by Zonk
from the go-little-buddy-go dept.
dylanduck writes "Good news for rover fans - Spirit is safe for the winter. It had been heading for a north-tilting spot to make sure its solar panels got enough sunlight during the imminent winter to survive, when a sand trap appeared. But, despite its busted wheel, it scooted round and is now sitting pretty. From the article: 'We've got a safe rover,' says principal investigator Steve Squyres. 'That's huge news for us.'"
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Spirit Rover Reaches Safety

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  • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sdo1 (213835) on Monday April 10, 2006 @05:52PM (#15101658) Journal
    I really can not believe that the rovers are still running at all. NASA did a bang up job on these.

    One might also argue that since they so grossly exceeded their life expectancy then they were overdesigned and cost too much.

    But I agree. Great job.

    Build more and recover the economies of scale!

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I can't understand why they insist on going back to the drawing board every time. I've read about the next generation rovers [space.com]. They're very different in many ways including the way they'll land on Mars.

    I just don't understand why, with the success that Spirt and Opportunity have had, they don't build these as a platform. Surely if the research was put into new instruments that could be attached to the current design, rather than redesigning from scratch, that would be a better use of the money.

    I'm sure (or hope) NASA has thought this through, right?

    -S

  • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday April 10, 2006 @05:58PM (#15101703) Homepage Journal
    "Build more and recover the economies of scale!

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I can't understand why they insist on going back to the drawing board every time. I've read about the next generation rovers. They're very different in many ways including the way they'll land on Mars. "

    Because there aren't any economies of scale to be had.
    The big cost of the rovers isn't the rover but the launch vehicle and the time on the DSN to keep them running. Mainly the launch vehicle. The Rover themselves are pretty cheap in comparison.
    Also after each mission NASA learns more about what works and doesn't and finds new questions to ask and that requires new tools.
    Finally because stuff gets better over time. You know that Moore's law thing?

    In reality trying to get "economies of scale" from the space program is EXACTLY the wrong way to do things. That is what lead to trying to use the Shuttle for everything.
    The space program should be more about trying new ideas than mass production.
  • Re:Amazing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:07PM (#15101756)
    "I really can not believe that the rovers are still running at all.
    NASA did a bang up job on these. Build more and recover the economies of scale!"

    Not long from now people will start speculating that the rovers are CGI animation and start finding hundreds of "deffects" in the Mars shots that demonstrate they've been "Photoshopped".

    It's kinda already happening in the form of humor and parody.

    It happened with the Moon landing.

    People are cruel, people are doubtful. You can respect the latter but pitty the former.
  • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by barawn (25691) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:37PM (#15102330) Homepage
    Because there aren't any economies of scale to be had.

    That's not entirely true. The biggest cost savings that a space project (the project, not the launch) can have is preventing systems failure - because a systems failure requires a new launch.

    So while I agree that reusing the rovers is moderately silly, given that certain technologies have proven themselves very very well, I would be extremely upset if those (successful, proven) technologies weren't used in future rover missions.

    In some sense, that is 'economies of scale'. It doesn't save you much money up front, but it reduces the chance that the mission will fail. Of course, this is in a lot of sense what NASA will do - and did do.

    Why? Because Spirit and Opportunity are already beneficiaries of the economies of scale - they both succeeded because their landing gear design [wikipedia.org] had already been tested, and the cruise stage design [wikipedia.org] already has been tested as well. Oh, and the aeroshell design [wikipedia.org] had been tested already, too. Almost thirty years previously. And if you want to talk about rover design? Automated obstacle avoidance, as well.

    So I definitely agree with you that I'm not happy about people criticizing NASA for not massively replicating the Spirit/Opportunity design - that is, for not building off of successes. They are building off of successes. That's why Spirit and Opportunity worked so well in the first place.

    Yes, Mars Science Laboratory [wikipedia.org] will be greatly different than the previous three. But it's still going to build off of proven technologies. That's taking the best of 'economies of scale' - getting a proven design - while not being limited to the original's limitations.

    Heck, MSL still states that solar power is under consideration. And I have little doubt that it's stayed under consideration because of Spirit and Opportunity's success.
  • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:14PM (#15102545) Journal
    Of course, what is really missed here, is that if we stayed with what was suggested, we would still be using the viking which never moved (~1000Kg). Or we would be using pathfinder that carried only 10 Kilos. Finally, the current rovers are about 180 kg (big improvement). But they will all be dwarfed by the capablilities of the MSL which will around 1000 Kgs and will move a great deal further and faster. So each time, these have increase about 10 fold with improved instruments. It would be interesting to see if our follow-on mission will involve sending 10x that weight. That would require the new Cargo Launch Vehicle to be used for that.
  • RC Toys (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:24PM (#15102607) Journal
    I won't make assumptions about what you did or didn't own, but just about any toy you buy from radio shack, the toy store, or dept. store is utter trash compared to a hobby quality RC vehicle.

    Once you think your kid is old enough to handle the responsibilities of an expensive toy, pick something out from a hobby catalog and introduce them to real RC stuff.

    Compared to a $30~$50 car, yes, it's an expensive investment, but like the rover, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck.
  • by ThreeE (786934) on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:25PM (#15102609)
    Please explain your point. The complexities involved with manned spaceflight vastly surpass those faced by the rovers. Don't get me wrong, the rovers are fantastic, but the consequences of failure are on a completely different scale. The payoffs of human presence, both long term and short term, are totally different too. And let's not even mention the string of unmanned failures at Mars either...

    Both are needed. Both are doing their best. Lead, follow, or get out of the way and stop bitching.
  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:04PM (#15102765) Homepage
    It is a shame that Maestro [telascience.org] appears to have stopped updating their data.

    Still, it is excellent software, and fun to use even if you don't get where Spirit is today. With Maestro you can see what the rovers see, and what the rover operators and instruments see... Actual software used in mission control.
  • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frangible (881728) on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:14PM (#15102809)
    Just think of what their lifespan would be with atomic batteries instead of solar cells. They would not be degraded by dust that couldn't be cleaned, wouldn't be non-functional for the winter, and could deliver much more energy for faster movement. The Voyager space probes used atomic batteries and last I heard, still worked after 30+ years. Wikipedia shows that their atomic batteries now produce 319 watts, from 470 initially.

    For comparison, the rovers produce only 140 watts during peak solar times (4 hours/day), in the summer.

    It's a shame irrational fear of nuclear material has again gotten in the way of better science.

  • Re:Tough decisions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbrader (697703) <stillnotpynchon@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @04:39AM (#15104287)
    What the hell man? The thing is still working well like 2 years after its original projected mission date. Who cares if the wheel is free rolling or dragging? It still works so it doesnt fucking matter.
  • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @06:07AM (#15104459)
    Because there aren't any economies of scale to be had. The big cost of the rovers isn't the rover but the launch vehicle and the time on the DSN to keep them running. Mainly the launch vehicle. The Rover themselves are pretty cheap in comparison. Also after each mission NASA learns more about what works and doesn't and finds new questions to ask and that requires new tools. Finally because stuff gets better over time. You know that Moore's law thing?

    Moore's law doesn't apply to the launch vehicle, but economies of scale do. The Space Shuttle may have been intended to exploit economies of scale, but it didn't. If the Space Shuttle had somehow managed to make the forty launches a year as planned, then yes, it would be a modest example of economies of scale. But its peak rate was somewhere around eight launches a year which is far short. The excuse for using the Space Shuttle might have been "economies of scale", but the reality is that the Shuttle needed barely enough business in order to keep funding.

    If NASA had been intent on creating economies of scale, they would have relied on (semi)commercial launchers (eg, Atlas, Delta, and Proton) that already have a higher launch rate and lower costs to orbit for all NASA needs.

    As far as the Deep Space Network goes, maybe there's a market opportunity here for a private operator. It should be possible for even a pretty small company to specialize in Earth-Mars microwave communications assuming they can cover the infrastructure costs. A key difference would be that a private effort would probably consist of a large array of dishes (economies of scale again) rather than a few large dishes as is the case with the current DSN.

Round Numbers are always false. -- Samuel Johnson

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