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NASA Struggles To Contact Lost Mars Probe 125

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the lost-in-space dept.
David Shiga writes "Just when NASA was about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft, the probe suddenly lost contact with Earth, New Scientist Space reports. NASA last heard from the MGS probe on November 5, two days before the 10th anniversary of its launch from Earth. The MGS team is not sure yet what the problem is, but a micrometeorite could have jolted the spacecraft's main antenna out of alignment with Earth, or it might have a solar array problem and too little power to talk to Earth as a result. If they can't re-establish communication this week, NASA may try to diagnose the problem by taking pictures of MGS with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The two spacecraft come within about 100 kilometers of each other several times each week."
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NASA Struggles To Contact Lost Mars Probe

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday November 10, 2006 @03:35AM (#16791746)
    We always either hear that NASA is doing a terrible job or that they are doing great in the face of great challenges.

    I'd love to see a list of projects in table format that show either mission success or mission failure and the reasons behind the failure.

    If anyone has a link, please post!

    • I'd love to see a list of projects in table format that show either mission success or mission failure and the reasons behind the failure.

      The vast majority of programs are failures but that's only because it's so dam hard. Sure there were a couple of DOH moments but not as many as just fate taking it's toll.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:58AM (#16792968)
      It's not necessarily that terrible a disaster -- the mission has been a great success and has lasted years beyond what was originally expected. If you are interested in such a table for Mars, though, someone has posted a nice one to wikipedia:

      Wikipedia on Exploration of Mars [wikipedia.org]

      NASA has recently (since 2000 or so) had a string of successes which are essentially unprecedented in the history of the Mars exploration program -- continuing within the last few weeks with MRO.
      • The Mars Global Surveyor completed its primary 5 year mission in 2001. Of course, the hardest part of the mission was just getting there, so it was no surprise that it continued operating for additional 5 years, during which it has continued to be quite productive. Typically, space probes are operated until they no longer have fuel to manuever with, but it's always been an accepted possibility that a terminal condition could develop. For example, the Pathfinder lander's solar panels became coated with dust
    • by igny (716218)
      Here [anl.gov] it is.
    • by Keebler71 (520908)
      Have you tried typing "list of mars missions" into www.google.com? Try it sometime. It's the third link down. I'd link to it, but I don't want to short you the education experience of using a search engine.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Working with US satellite programs, I have come to realize how hard it is to actually take care of a bird in flight. There are so much junk flying around in space that could take out your satellite, not to mention things like solar storms and such, all this you have to track and adjust for. Of course, something's you don't see coming.

      http://nasaexplores.nasa.gov/show2_articlea.php?id =01-074 [nasa.gov]

      In addition, a satellite can go anywhere from 500 degrees to -500 degrees in a single orbit. Even with all this,
  • martian RPG (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Friday November 10, 2006 @03:36AM (#16791748) Homepage
    The MGS team is not sure yet what the problem is, but a micrometeorite could have jolted the spacecraft's main antenna out of alignment with Earth

    That wasn't a "meteorite", and I can tell you that the martians probably don't like being spied on any more than we do.
  • Opportunity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday November 10, 2006 @03:38AM (#16791756) Homepage Journal

    I had been wondering why updates from Opportunity had been so scarce over the last couple of weeks, given that the rover has reached the most interesting part of its traverse.

    The communication bottleneck created by the MGS problem may be partly to blame.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Most of it was due to Mars being on the opposite side of the sun, which led to comms blackout for for a while.
    • From about Oct 25 to Nov 10 Mars was on the the other side of the Sun. The Suns radio noise effectively blocks transmission either way. I notice Opportunity started returning images this week.
      • where does one go to notice such things on this vast collection tubes, knobs and buttons?
      • From about Oct 25 to Nov 10 Mars was on the the other side of the Sun. The Suns radio noise effectively blocks transmission either way. I notice Opportunity started returning images this week

        Maybe the spotty comms is part of the reason for the apparent problem with MGS. Perhaps we should wait a while before being really worried.

  • MRO - "Say Cheese"

    *flash*

    MGS - "What? oh I wasn't ready"

    All in 1's and 0's of course.
  • Rumsfield simply took it home with him when he cleaned out his office.
  • Can't Reply (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Friday November 10, 2006 @03:50AM (#16791790) Journal
    The probe cannot reply to Earth signals because some ahole took away its "Reply" button!
    • This is a stunt to help promote the next Transformers movie. They'll probably send a video back to NASA showing the things last transmission [transformersmovie.com].
    • by bcat24 (914105)
      I know what happened! They took away it's reply buttons to replace the missing ones on Slashdot!
      • by Tablizer (95088)
        Yeah, what was up with that? Was it a slashdot bug, or a test? Glad its fixed.
        • by Kelson (129150) *
          Bug [slashdot.org]. Actually, I guess technically, it was down for maintenance. The 2^24th comment triggered a bug in threading, which was easy to fix (change the data type on the "parent comment" field), but took hours to run. So they disabled threading entirely while they ran the database update.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by 1stpreacher (848239)
      It has already replied 16,777,216 times... Crap!
  • Re: Opportunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Friday November 10, 2006 @03:53AM (#16791800) Journal
    I had been wondering why updates from Opportunity had been so scarce over the last couple of weeks, given that the rover has reached the most interesting part of its traverse. The communication bottleneck created by the MGS problem may be partly to blame.

    Actually it is because Mars is nearly on the opposite side of the sun from Earth such that the sun interferes with transmissions between the two planets. Thus, the activity of Mars probes has been scaled way down for a few weeks until the sun moves out of the way.
         
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ...until the sun moves out of the way... Hum... I wouldn't wait for THAT to happen...
    • by janos77 (629487)
      Yup, this period is known as 'solar conjunction'. The NASA policy is to cut off communications with the spacecraft when they (Mars, other planets, or spacecraft alone in deep space) are within 6 degrees of the Sun from Earth. This is due to the increased communications errors as the commands are transmitted so close to the Sun. And, once the spacecraft are directly opposite of the sun, there are zero communications. At Mars this lasts nearly a month.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You know the one I mean
  • Keep in mind... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:01AM (#16791812)
    For the "oh NASA can't do anything right" folks, keep in mind that Mars Global Surveyor finished its primary and extended missions years ago and has continued to operate as a communications relay aiding the Spirit and Opportunity rovers since then. It can only be described as an overwhelming success, especially considering its budget and trailblazing design.

    Moreover, even if we discount MGS, NASA has 2 operational orbiters and 2 operational rovers on Mars (ESA also has an operational orbiter). With MGS, there had been 6 operational spacecraft on or around Mars, which is unprecedented in human history.
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:04AM (#16791816) Journal
    A perfect example of "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'!"
  • by Kelson (129150) * on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:08AM (#16791828) Homepage Journal
    Just last month we learned that Spirit was bored out of its mind [theonion.com] with Mars. Obviously the rover has been passing time by trying out its throwing arm on some of those rock specimens it's been collecting.

    Either that or it and Opportunity have started one-on-one baseball. You think your neighbors get mad when you hit the ball into their window -- that's nothing compared to what'll happen when NASA finds out Spirit took out MGS with a homer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:10AM (#16791840)
    With Bush in office, Spirit and Opportunity lasted well beyond their life expectancy. Couple of days after the libs get Congress and Senate, space hardware begins to malfunction.

    Ah, well. We'll never get to Mars anyway. When Hillary gets into office 2 years from now, the CEV will be scrapped along with the rest of the space program. More money for social programs and some token medical research.

    But at least the internet will be finally reeled in and tightly controlled. It will be an improvement. No more slashdot. No more digg. No more indymedia. Only politically correct and copyright-friendly content from 2008 on. Can't wait.
  • I blame giant robots [youtube.com]
  • by clickclickdrone (964164) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:30AM (#16791884)
    OK so it's a bit busted (potentially) but isn't it great that there is another vehicle nearby that can take a look? We're talking about Mars here! It's stories like this that show we really are starting to get out there in a big way, none of this one probe every 5 years that then lands and dies in a couple of days.
    Let's have a big hand for the human race, people..
    • by cyngus (753668)
      This was actually one of my thoughts as well. We're starting to build up an ecosystem of equipment out there. MRO helping determine the problem with MGS. MGS acting a comm relay for the rovers, etc. This is where you can see that more pieces add flexibility to the system.
  • Actually. (Score:5, Funny)

    by oGMo (379) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:33AM (#16791892)
    If they can't re-establish communication this week, NASA may try to diagnose the problem by taking pictures of MGS with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    It's clear what's going on... terrorists have taken over and are trying to steal it. What they'll actually do is send in an ex-black-ops operative called out of retirement, because he's dealt with this kind of thing before, and because his genetic twin is the mastermind. This should be obvious. It's what always happens when dealing with a... Metal Gear. But this time we're not on Solid ground. We're in Space.

    And we've got Snakes in Space.

    • by Dunbal (464142)
      terrorists have taken over and are trying to steal it.

            Or the satellite has been pwn3d and the uplink is currently being used to send "enlarge your penis", "cialis", "I saw you online the other day and you look hot" and Nigerian emails to the entire world... I say we crash the MRO into it and do the world a favor!
    • by lhopper (1025512)
      in reality..... 01001101 01100001 01110010 01100011 01101111 . . . . . 01010000 01101111 01101100 01101111
  • by eclectro (227083) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:43AM (#16791904)
    The probe cannot reply to Earth signals because some ahole took away its "Reply" button!

    That's not it. The spacecraft travelled 2^24 or 16,777,216 clicks, at which time the internal navigation turned into an unsigned mediumint.

    They say they should be able to restore earth reply for the probe in 3+ hours. Otherwise, slashdotters will start probing for jokes.
  • by RuBLed (995686) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:55AM (#16791924)
    Ahem.. TFA said they only passed each other within 100km several times a week. It's almost incomparable to the ~1000 functioning artificial satellites that are orbiting Earth (plus a few more thousand old satellites that are now classified as space debris) If you track the most notable ones with tools like http://www.heavens-above.com/ [heavens-above.com] then you would see that they pass each other several times a day...
  • I'm sure we do though! I's the thing about eactly known orbits and intercpet times, and whether the camera is pointing in the right direction - If you could et people to do it, I'm sure you can obtain images of other earth orbiting satellites from said satellites.
  • Has Slashdot lost it's threading, or is it just me ?

    Y'know, I really wish Slashdot had a 'Talk' forum, where we could all discuss (sorry, bitch) about stuff on Slashdot in general without our posts being connected to an article.

    -Jar.
  • Resolution (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr2cents (323101) on Friday November 10, 2006 @05:17AM (#16791972)
    The resolution of MRO is really simple to calculate: at 300km, you get 30cm/pixel. So at 100km, you'd get 10cm/pixel. I'm really looking forward to see that kind of image of MGS, but without contact, how long can they wait before the orbit becomes uncertain? Pointing would be really difficult IMO.
  • Never Mind... Finally found out why in the 'Older Stuff' sidebar...

    Idea #2: Slashdot has a 'sticky article option' that's always at the top of the main page, so those of us who aren't on American Time, get to see the important stuff when we wake up.

    -Jar.
  • I wrote a ksh cgi clone of slashcode for my family website and implemented the same sticky article feature. My article ID's are 32 bits :)

    You can post anything you like in your journal and people can reply.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I wrote a ksh cgi clone of slashcode for my family website and implemented the same sticky article feature. My article ID's are 32 bits :)
      You're expecting 4 billion posts from your family?!
  • by ColaMan (37550) on Friday November 10, 2006 @06:10AM (#16792080) Homepage Journal
    mr2cents - it's been done before and while the timing is no doubt a bitch, it's quite possible.

    linky [nasa.gov]
    One Mars Orbiter Takes First Photos of Other Orbiters

    Photographs from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft released today are the first pictures of any spacecraft orbiting Mars ever taken by another spacecraft orbiting Mars.

    The new images of the European Space Agency's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey are available on the Internet from NASA at http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/mg s-images.html [nasa.gov] and from Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company that built and operates the camera, at http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2005/05/19/ind ex.html [msss.com] .
     


    Of course, if all they see is a smear of debris, well I guess they know they won't be getting any more data.

  • RE: Opportunity (Score:5, Informative)

    by slinted (374) on Friday November 10, 2006 @06:19AM (#16792098)
    The communication bottleneck created by the MGS problem may be partly to blame.

    As has been mentioned in another not-reply, the main reason for the dearth of new images from Opportunity is that Mars was at conjunction with the sun.

    Even if this weren't the case, losing MGS won't put a major strain on rover communications. I don't have more recent numbers handy, but as of Jan 19 2005, MGS had only returned 7% of the data from the rovers compared to the Mars Odyssey relay which returned 90% (with the remaining 3% coming down directly from the rovers).
  • by Pogue Mahone (265053) on Friday November 10, 2006 @06:20AM (#16792108) Homepage
    The poor thing's probably slashdooted by now ;-)
  • The sun isnt moving anywhere, I think what you mean is until Mars emerges from the far side again.
    • by VWJedi (972839)

      Well, if you want to get all technical about it, the earth orbits the sun at a faster rate (approx. 30 km/s) than Mars (approx. 24 km/s). So we need to move to a spot where the sun is not "blocking our view".

  • So they got their Role Playing Gamers to take it out with a loaded d20?
  • That is quite an achievement, especially the rovers are quite impressive as they were supposed to only last for a short period of time. I guess the mars weather has been kind.
  • suggests Klingon disruptors
  • I think this means the Transformers are coming...
  • by Ruvim (889012) on Friday November 10, 2006 @08:30AM (#16792720)
    Oh no! Transformers got to it too!
  • It's just another Hollywood hoax as part of the build up to the Transformers Movie. [transformersmovie.com] It's gone the same way as the UK's Mars Beagle mission shown in the teaser trailer on the site
  • by dosle (794546)
    All these worlds are yours except MARS.
    attempt no landings there.
    use them together.
    use them in peace.
  • Opportunity: .. in UR base killin your d00ds...
    Mars Global Surveyor: ...what? huh?
  • Obviously it was the decepticons.
  • We all know the Martians don't like being spied on. We are lucky they don't have anymore p238 space modulators!
  • The MGS is 10 years old and a really great piece of technology but I am not surprised it failed at this point and I wondered if it was going to make it to 2008. Although it is a "downer" to have it fail, we should take advantage of it. We know what in MGS that is good and with 10 years of improvement we can make a new Mars Global Surveryor that did everything the old one did plus more.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by marsmark (1025772)
      Yeah, we did. It's called Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [nasa.gov]. As an engineer who worked on MRO, I can tell you we learn from all of our previous spacecraft - successes and failures. While it is possible we may not restore contact with MGS, MRO will return more scientific data than all of NASA's previous Mars missions combined.
  • It just had an important birthday. It's probably hung over.
  • With its other two martian buddies, celebrating its own birthday in a nearby martian bar... No worries - it'll get back up, once it's sober!
  • It's obvious. NASA must have used binary coded decimal for the elapsed time of the mission with the top 4 bits representing the number of years. With the year reaching 10 an overflow happened...
  • "Our probe, Hamster One, seems to have lost contact right near Uranus..."
  • Nothing can stop that from 'phoning home'.

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