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Long-lived Mars Rovers to Keep on Roving 177

Posted by Zonk
from the getting-to-be-nerd-mascots dept.
An anonymous reader writes with a link to a ComputerWorld article about the ongoing saga of the Martian rovers. They've overcome amazing obstacles and they show no signs of shutting down any time soon. "'After more than three and a half years, Spirit and Opportunity are showing some signs of aging, but they are in good health and capable of conducting great science,' John Callas, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. Since landing, the rovers have had to surmount a host of technical issues. Just a few weeks after landing, the Spirit rover had an out-of-memory problem that almost ended its mission before it began, but scientists were able to get the rover back into operation. In April 2004, both needed software updates to correct problems and improve their performance."
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Long-lived Mars Rovers to Keep on Roving

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  • by rah1420 (234198) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:30PM (#21056851)
    should read the story of these two amazing machines. There's a lot that's wrong with NASA but there's so much that's right, too -- and this is proof positive.

    • by jhines (82154) <john@jhines.org> on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:43PM (#21056963) Homepage
      in a spectacular fashion. Either extreme, it is rare that a mission is routine.
      • by IceD'Bear (829534) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:07PM (#21057155)
        It just seem so to you, because you hear only of the spectacular missions. Routine missions aren't really interesting news.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by nilbud (1155087)
          So which of the missions to other planets is the "routine" one?
          • Cassini (to date), Magellan, Galileo... If you want to go back into history, you can add in practically the entire Mariner series...
            • by arodland (127775)
              I've heard plenty about Cassini and Galileo. Galileo was the great success of the 90s. I'll admit to being mostly ignorant of Magellan though :)
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by DerekLyons (302214)
                Hearing plenty about them does not mean they weren't/aren't routine, the media is untrustworthy in that respect. Also, you've probably heard a great deal about them, and not about Magellan, mostly because they produce tons of sexy pictures - and Magellan didn't.
                • by arodland (127775)
                  The great-xn grandparent post asserted that you never hear about the routine missions, only the spectacular successes or failures.
      • As in, Microsoft Vista is not even nomimal.

        Until Vista End-Of-Life. Which will be before the rovers die.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by EVil Lawyer (947367)
        And what else would we want from an AMERICAN space agency? Yeeeeee-haw! [shoots guns in air and rides off into sunset]
    • by MonorailCat (1104823) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:47PM (#21056999)
      It's really nice to see a story of good engineering getting some play. It seems whenever engineering is in the news it involves a building collapse or something dreadful like that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by moosesocks (264553)
        The thing is that the engineers predicted that they would fail years ago. A few months into the mission, I remember that there was a significant amount of speculation over why the things hadn't failed, because it was confusing the hell out of the guys who built it.

        I'm a bit curious if the rovers are actually doing anything all that useful at the moment... after all, they move at a painfully slow rate, and the landscape isn't all that varied in the areas they're in.
        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:38PM (#21057373) Homepage

          I'm a bit curious if the rovers are actually doing anything all that useful at the moment... after all, they move at a painfully slow rate, and the landscape isn't all that varied in the areas they're in.

          Look around the NASA / JPL sites (links not provided, I'm lazy and cranky besides Google needs the ad revenue). Lots of good, albeit plodding research. Much of this is just data collection - it will take years of analyzing the data and cross referencing it with other Mars probes and historical research but just sitting there and acting as a Martian weather buoy yields enormously important information.

          We know so little of anything extra terrestrial that even low hanging fruit is satisfying.

        • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday October 20, 2007 @06:01PM (#21058791) Homepage

          The thing is that the engineers predicted that they would fail years ago.

          That's the fun part of being an engineer - you get booed when things fail short of their predicted lifetime. But when you screw up your predictions the other way and underestimate the lifetime... suddenly, you are a hero. No wonder engineers are inclined to be conservative.
           
           

          I'm a bit curious if the rovers are actually doing anything all that useful at the moment... after all, they move at a painfully slow rate, and the landscape isn't all that varied in the areas they're in.

          Welcome to the world of real science - where data collection takes years, and data analysis takes decades. It's also a world most activities are painfully slow and/or boring and things don't happen at any great rate, and that simply isn't very exciting.
           
          This isn't Mythbusters where everything is dumbed down, sexed up, and edited to a pace suitable for the short attention span of the post-MTV generation.
          • Oh. I realize how painfully excruciating scientific data collection can be. Robert Millikan must have had the patience of a saint, considering he spent several years painstakingly measuring the charge on an electron, producing a result was incredibly accurate and precise. I'm not going to enter the Mythbusters debate here (I can really see both sides of it)....

            Back on topic, given the HUGE size of mars compared to the absolutely miniscule portion of what we've looked at, I can't help but think that it'd
            • by Kadin2048 (468275) *
              I think you're underestimating how much there is to learn, even in a very limited area. Just the data from those three miles that the rovers have traveled will probably keep a generation of scientists busy, or at least give them some data to chew on.

              Would it be nicer if we had a rover that could do 25MPH over rough terrain, on another planet? Sure, I'm sure that'd be awesome. But there are a lot of technical problems doing that, and if you want to go faster you have to spend more weight on motors, solar pan
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by DerekLyons (302214)
              It would be more advantageous to have such a rover - it would also cost at least an order of magnitude more (and probably a great deal more than that), and may or may not work. Also, you have to keep in mind that when they built this set, they only expected them to last a couple of weeks because of dust on the solar panels. They've been lucky in that respect, very lucky.

              You also have to keep in mind that topography isn't the issue, geology is. In that respect, even with the small distances they'v
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tm2b (42473)
          Completely shooting from the hip (hey, it's Slashdot), I'd venture a guess that in making failure estimates, engineers have to assume close-to-worst case scenarios. The less we know about an environment (or, the more random it is), the more likely that a worst case scenario will be very different from the actual conditions encountered.

          So if some critical assumptions that cascade through longevity calculations turn out to be better than assumed, it makes sense that we'd see dramatically longer actual li
    • and here IS that story [amazon.com]; very good it is, too. I defy anyone not to be moved by the scenes at JPL when the first pictures from from Eagle crater came down from Opportunity. I get a little bit choked up myself every time I see it :)
      • I'm sure the DVD has some advantages in showing the personal aspects, but I was probably equally moved by the book [amazon.com], which I'd bet went into more technical detail (I haven't seen the DVD) and is still very personal. Much of it is Dr. Squyres' personal notes from when the mission was developing and unfolding. It was obviously quite the emotional roller coaster for the mission team.

        Unfortunately, the saga cuts off two years ago. Those robotic drama queens kept writing the story long after the book ends.

        A
    • by suv4x4 (956391)
      should read the story of these two amazing machines. There's a lot that's wrong with NASA but there's so much that's right, too -- and this is proof positive.

      I agree wholeheartedly, but most of the "regular" people giving NASA bad rap do it since they are conspiracy freaks. One of my buddies here is such a freak and he constantly keeps bugging me with various suitable entangled plots about how NASA hid a UFO or lied about the rovers or whatever.

      The latest thing is that some photo is floating around that app
  • made in...? (Score:5, Funny)

    by bwy (726112) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:39PM (#21056923)
    OK.... are we SURE that these things weren't made in Japan?

    Cause they're acting more like a Honda than a GM at this point.
  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:42PM (#21056953) Journal
    How long would a rover that was actually designed to last for three years keep on working?

    -jcr

    • Re:Just think.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by no_pets (881013) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:46PM (#21056991)
      Probably about a month and a half. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tuoqui (1091447)
      If its one thing I've learned from Star Trek is to multiply all your time related estimates by a factor of 4. (IE. Under Promise and Over Deliver)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Such a rover would be so big and heavy, it would never make it to mars. In order to make sure the rover will last for a couple of months given everything that could possibly go wrong, it has to be so over engineered, that odds are it will last many years.

      Or to put it in numbers, a 99.99% chance of surviving for 3 months, could easily translate into a 50% chance of lasting 5 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Not [wikipedia.org] so [wikipedia.org] long [wikipedia.org]. As another poster mentioned, most planetary missions are spectacular either in success or failure.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      If they were designed to break, then the warranty period + x where x is long enough that most will pass warranty and as short as possible without customers showing up with torches and pitchforks. If they were designed to not break... well, probably as long as the current rovers.
    • by xant (99438)
      It would last forever, just like these rovers. As far as we know.
    • by Jozer99 (693146)
      They were designed to work for 3 months with a HUGE margin of safety. NASA over engineers the heck out of everything. So in reality, the parts were probably designed to last for 3-6 years, to guarantee they would work for 3-6 months.
    • by Sentry21 (8183)
      Judging from all the hard drives, electronics, and appliances I've ever owned, three years and six days.
  • Oh, if only we could send Karl to join his roving brethren on Mars...
  • Repeatable? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesupermikey (220055) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:50PM (#21057021) Homepage Journal
    We have been seeing articles like this for 3 years now. That is great, the more positive talk about a NASA project the better.

    The thing that always seems to be missing is: why did these two robots continue to work so well, and, how do we go about repeating their success?

    • Aliens. Their superior Martian technology is the only reasonable explanation for the rover's continued success.
      • Mods are in a really mood this morning. Who would have thought that somebody on Slashdot would be hung over from Friday night?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vertinox (846076)
      The thing that always seems to be missing is: why did these two robots continue to work so well, and, how do we go about repeating their success?

      Lack of human safety issues and KISS [wikipedia.org].
    • Which makes maintenance a lot more easier, as you only have to deal with one type of system, one type of hardware, etc. That is only one reason, but it is a big one. When you have to juggle two separate types of hardware configs at this distance, two software setups, it gets a lot more complex.
    • Re:Repeatable? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:19PM (#21057247) Homepage
      They continue to work so well because they got power, that was the 3mo limit where it was assumed the solar panels would be too clogged up to function. No, it's not as easy as having a windshield wiper. They figured they'd rather get more out of them in three months, and maybe they'd get lucky - which they did. You have to admit that over these three years it hasn't been very many scientific accomplishments they didn't do in the first three months, it's more like "hey, they survived this winter too" or "hey, they got to crater X, which is just like the last crater".

      As for repeating the success, first of all you can't. Now we know you can keep continous solar power working on Mars, and that'll be the expectation from now on. Secondly, you need some luck - they're way past their design life and probably the only reason they're working is because it's massively overengineered with everyone thinking "like hell if it'll be our part that kills it after a week". I'm not sure how good setting a three year design life would help, because I figure they're already using pretty much the best they got. It's not like the cost of metal piece on the rover is anywhere near significant compared to the cost of getting it to Mars.
      • Re:Repeatable? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:37PM (#21057367) Journal
        You have to admit that over these three years it hasn't been very many scientific accomplishments they didn't do in the first three months

        I think its too early to say that. They still don't know when the water was there, how long, and how much. That's gonna take a lot of time-consuming study of a lot of details. Scientists are still discovering new things in Viking data.

        Now we know you can keep continous solar power working on Mars, and that'll be the expectation from now on.

        The whirlwind effect is kind of hit and miss, though. A device that depends on solar power may have many months of down-time if a whirlwind fails to show up. And as we've learned, big dust storms risk freezing the electronics to death. Thus, solar is still risky.

        I figure they're already using pretty much the best they got.

        I've heard there are known spots that lack redundancy on the rovers. A more expensive mission could potentially have more areas of redundancy.

        • by Khyber (864651)
          "And as we've learned, big dust storms risk freezing the electronics to death."

          I thought most electronics would run better at extremely cold temperatures.
          • by Agripa (139780)

            I thought most electronics would run better at extremely cold temperatures.

            That is only the case if designed that way. Besides the effect on electrical characteristics, the things that have to be taken into consideration include physical changes in the materials themselves and the thermal expansion coefficients. I suspect the later is a major issue for the landers because failure will tend to be irreversible. I suppose if they are RoHS compliant and use tin solders that could also cause a problem at low

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by boris111 (837756)

        Now we know you can keep continous solar power working on Mars, and that'll be the expectation from now on

        Except the next rover [nasa.gov] will use a radio isotope power system [nasa.gov]. No Solar Panels on this thing.

        It's also a behemoth, and doesn't use airbags to land.
      • by mykdavies (1369)

        ...probably the only reason they're working is because it's massively overengineered with everyone thinking "like hell if it'll be our part that kills it after a week". I'm not sure how good setting a three year design life would help, because I figure they're already using pretty much the best they got.

        Exactly! Too many people seem to believe that there's some wonderful magic at play here. There isn't; it's just that every engineer on this project did their best within the constraints they were working within, and many of their design decisions would have been exactly the same if they had been expecting a three-year mission.

        The engineers were obviously given the funds and the time they needed to produce a great design -- that's the real miracle here!

    • The thing that always seems to be missing is: why did these two robots continue to work so well, and, how do we go about repeating their success?

      You spend a lot of money overdesigning and overtesting every individual component - then you get lucky.
  • by Puff of Logic (895805) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:55PM (#21057067)

    They've overcome amazing obstacles and they show no signs of shutting down any time soon.
    Oh, nice work! That's a sentence that's all but guaranteed to result in a story next week about both rovers spontaneously combusting! Remember, Zonk, loose lips cause catastrophic technical failures!

    sheesh.
  • agreed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pablo_max (626328)
    These are amazing little guys. It's still a shame that we don't more things like this. It's terrible that we spend trillions of dollars to build militarys and almost zero on things like this which expand our knowledge for the betterment of us all. I am sure there would lines around planet of people who would be happy to go on the mission to exchange the parts on these critters. Heck, I am sure there would be a ton of people who would love to go even if there was a 80% chance it would be a one way trip. We c
    • So you are asking China to fund TWO space programs :P
    • I totally agree about spending money in the pursuit of knowledge over violence, but statements like yours make me cringe:

      zero on things like this which expand our knowledge for the betterment of us all

      How does this help the people that have core human needs that are not being fulfilled. And I'm not talking about laptops or vaccinations. I'm talking about basic food and shelter.

      Space exploration is a good thing. I'd put it in the top 10 ways to spend public money. But I also don't pretend that it's a great leap forward for all of humanity. It isn't.

      • by v01d (122215)
        Space exploration is a good thing. I'd put it in the top 10 ways to spend public money. But I also don't pretend that it's a great leap forward for all of humanity. It isn't.

        True, but I can't think of a better alternative. Giving food and shelter to starving countries doesn't help humanity either. The advancement of science and technology clearly has the potential to help all of humanity; I don't see nearly the same potential in handing out bags of grain to third world countries.

        I'm not a fan of human su
        • Throughout human history, those civilizations that have advanced have done so at times when their individual lives were unencumbered by a constant search for food and shelter.

          What the fuck does a starving kid in Detroit, or Sierra Leone for that matter, care about a 1TB hard drive or mapping another solar system.

          keeping a few million uneducated people from starving is only beneficial to those few million uneducated starving people

          So let's look at it from a purely economic standpoint: If we can get people healthy and sheltered enough to get them an education that's a few million more people to make your Nikes, to dig th

          • by v01d (122215)
            Throughout human history, those civilizations that have advanced have done so at times when their individual lives were unencumbered by a constant search for food and shelter.

            Interesting opinion. Doesn't seem very historically sound, but I'll ignore that for now. Are you saying those people are unencumbered by a constant search for food their own food and shelter or anyone's? If the US were encumbered by a constant search for food for other countries I can see were that would impede advances.

            So let's lo
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      We can only hope a space race starts with China since we will only spend if it's counter a "threat" to our supremacy.

      Space race is all PR now. All you need is the capability to launch nukes into space and aim them down and you've won. That means we won decades ago.
  • advertisements (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phrostie (121428) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:24PM (#21057279)
    i'm really surprised we haven't seen advertisements on TV for the companies and subcontractors that helped make all the components.

    talk about some serious bragging rights!

    • i'm really surprised we haven't seen advertisements on TV for the companies and subcontractors that helped make all the components. talk about some serious bragging rights!

      Mostly because they are very small and very specialized companies that don't market to the general public in the first place. A prime example is Honeybee Robotics [honeybeerobotics.com] who built the rock grinding tools for the rovers.

    • by heybo (667563)
      http://java.com/en/everywhere/marsrover.jsp/ [java.com] Runs on open source no wonder it just keeps on going.
      • http://java.com/en/everywhere/marsrover.jsp/ Runs on open source no wonder it just keeps on going.
        Hmm. Except when it's in a web page. I get this on that link.

        Method Not Allowed
        An error has occurred.

  • by NoSpamPlease (1145157) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:48PM (#21057447)

    ...but scientists were able to...
    Just a pet peeve of mine. No scientists were involved in rescuing the rovers. Engineers did all the work, and deserve all the credit for the immense success and longer duration of this mission. Scientists deserve the credit for the science that we get from them. The success of the rovers depends entirely on Engineers.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cogit0 (918572)
      What precludes the possibility of the scientists being engineers? I'm a scientist and an engineer (though not involved with space exploration). It is entirely within the realm of possibility that the engineers that knew what needed to be done to increase the longevity also knew much of the science behind how to do so.

      I believe that an understanding of both sides helps solve problems while dramatically reducing the need for engineers to translate to science and vice versa.
    • by ChuckleBug (5201) *
      Scientists deserve the credit for the science that we get from them. The success of the rovers depends entirely on Engineers.

      Engineers deserve a huge proportion of the credit, but this statement is too much. In the first place, scientists worked closely with engineers in the design and during the manufacturing process. Plus, how do you know whether some scientist didn't come up with an idea the engineers could use during a crisis? Not to mention the fact that a lot of people are both scientists and engineer
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jklappenbach (824031)
      They're due credit for much more than just getting the rovers out of many a tight squeeze. The Martian day is 37 minutes longer than a Terran day. This might not seem like much, but every day, their daily schedule is offset by 37 minutes. Over the course of a year, this can lead to a constant sense of "jet lag", with all the associated psychological effects. And their schedules not only impact their own lives, but that of their family and friends.

      Way to go, team!
  • Ol' Mars Rover, dem Ol' Mars Rovers
    They jus' keeps scoopin', surveyin', and a viewin'
    They jus' keeps on rollin', keeps on rollin' along
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @03:09PM (#21057585) Journal
      They jus' keeps scoopin',

      They don't have scoopers, by the way, at least not in the Viking sense. They take the instruments to the soil instead of bring the soil to the instruments.

      However, they can and do use their wheels to dig small trenches in order to analyze deeper soil. They do this by holding 5 wheels mostly still and move the 6th wheel.

      It is a remarkably compact yet flexible way to get the most out of existing hardware.

      Spirit cannot do this well anymore because of one stuck wheel. However, by dragging it around, it has become a happenstance "auto-trencher" and because of it they've stumbled upon some soil with high salt content underneath the visible layer that many scientists think is an important clue to the continuing water study (although the pieces to the puzzle still have yet to be all fit together). Now they regularly do spectral analysis on the bum-wheel trenches to see what's below the visible layer.
               
  • by Tibor the Hun (143056) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @03:12PM (#21057613)
    This project must have had a hundred million managers and task teams!
    Seriously!
  • I hope the fact that the rover has lasted well beyond its expected lifespan, will inspire American car companies especially GM to make durable vehicles. Sincerely, having made the mistake of owning the Dodge Caravan, I swear it will take Divine intervention to own another Dodge.

    At 3,100 miles, trouble started with strange sounds in the cabin area till I gave up on it. GM, take leaf from the rover engineers, you'll surely benefit.

    • You know, I agree the reliability of American cars is lousy (that's why I have a Toyota), but Dodge == Daimler Chrysler, not GM, last I checked...
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Ok, two points here:

      1) GM doesn't make Dodge vehicles. Daimler-Chrysler does, so you're an idiot.
      2) Reliability is pretty consistent across-the-board now. American cars generally aren't any worse than Japanese cars (generally.)

      Of course, the fact that you don't even know what company makes the car you thought was so terrible makes me wonder if you're just trolling here in the first place.
      • by bogaboga (793279)

        1) GM doesn't make Dodge vehicles. Daimler-Chrysler does, so you're an idiot.

        Did the GP say GM makes the Dodge Caravan? I guess you're the idiot. I only stated how I wanted GM to get inspired by the rover's performance.

        You are involved in what I normally call sysntax distortion! Sheesh!

    • by toddestan (632714)
      Keep in mind that 3100 miles is a lot further than the rovers have traveled :)
    • {humor} Rover doesn't make very good cars either. {/humor}

      In recent Consumer Reports evaluations, Toyota has fallen out of the top spots of reliability in 6 and 8 cylinder models, and Buick (GM) is in the top 10.

  • That is an amazing story. Now, I hope that all filkers will get to work. The first line, of course:

    "I've been a Mars Rover for many a year..."
  • by dpilot (134227) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @03:44PM (#21057823) Homepage Journal
    A talk being given by one of the geologists (Jim Bell) on the Spirit/Opportunity teams. (He was also selling and signing the book of the same name.) A few little tidbits from the talk...

    One of the rovers (Spirit?) has blown a motor on a front wheel. As a result, it's normal mode of travel is now backwards. Also as a result, it tends to drag a groove in the Martian soil. In a recent transit, they were taking photographs of where they'd been and realized that the dragging wheel had exposed a different layer of soil, significantly different from the surface layer. Had the wheel not been dragging, they never would have discovered this.

    Choosing a landing site is a tug-of-war between the engineers and geologists. The engineers want to land someplace safe, so they can make it in one piece and functional. The geologists want to land someplace interesting. Usually "interesting" and "safe" are opposites. It's a compromise.

    Likewise, choosing what to look at is a compromise between safety and interesting. They've recently taken one of the rovers (Opportunity?) into a crater, realizing that they may not be able to get it out. But they've done all of the doable stuff nearby, the crater is compellingly interesting, and if they don't make it out, it's been a good run, and there's more to do in the crater.

    The rovers are really slow. You may hear it, but it doesn't hit home until you've seen a visual demonstration of how slow those things are.

    The rovers had been "wintering over," and they were worried about them getting enough sunlight to keep from getting too cold. While the Jim Bell was on the road for this book tour, and before the engagement I was at, they'd reacquired contact.

    During the early days of the mission, the scientists were on Martian time, living 27 hour days. After the first few weeks, they settled out procedures and policies to allow them to go back on Earth time.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @04:11PM (#21058017) Homepage Journal
    Because a private company would have sucked their profit out a long time ago and shut the whole thing down before it became interesting or enlightening or even heroic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twfry (266215)
      Seriously, this got modded up? Really?

      A private company would kept them going to milk as much value out of the rovers as possible and to raise their chances of winning the bid for the next project.
    • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @07:13AM (#21062209) Homepage
      If you mean commercialization as in "Let's disband NASA and wait for private enterprise" then yes. If you mean as in "Let NASA push the frontiers, but try to make commercial ventures follow" then I disagree. Even though the government doesn't need to have a direct profit, there's very rarely money to do something just for the hell of it. Most of the time, it's to generate new technlogy, improve education or knowledge in a science, create a better understanding of our own culture or history and so on. Sure the Apollo program did a lot to improve ground-based science and technology, but I imagine over time it'll be less and less relevant to surface-dwellers and only relevant to space travel. If we can't find ways to make it profitable, if space travel is a constant money sink forever then it will be nothing more than the odd scientific expedition. So I'd say it's very important, but you can't put the cart in front of the horse - there must be something commercializable to begin with.
      • Space exploration would then have to tow the mark vis a vis an acceptable ROI. What is a good ROI for the Hubble or sending satellites to comets? I'm guessing it's zero. Unless you're talking about geomapping, climate studies, telecommunications, all that near earth stuff, the 'return' on space is nil. And I don't have a problem with either accepting that it's nil, or giving up on it because it's nil. Let's just be clear that's what our intentions are. BTW I am firmly convinced that when the Shuttle program
  • When NASA says "90 days" of useful life they really mean they've planned for a full year. They won't look too bad if the spacecraft fails after a couple of months and will be seen as miracle workers when if it does survive a full year. A little spin technique picked up from Cmdr Montgomery Scott, no doubt.

    That being said, kudos to the engineers and operators for keeping both of the beasties running for so long. It would have been even better if they had planned for an much extended lifetime for the rover
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by calebt3 (1098475)

      When NASA says "90 days" of useful life they really mean they've planned for a full year.
      Even by that estimate, they have performed 3.5 times better than expected!
  • (disclaimer: Steve Squyres was a favorite professor of mine in undergrad)

    If you want to know just how amazing these machines are, you *must* read Roving Mars [amazon.com]. It is amazing how on several occasions, one person made the difference between utter failure and spectacular success. And often these decisions were against NASA brass, scientist's opinions, and conventional wisdom.

    In fact, I have to admit that once the book gets to the point where the Rovers actually land, it gets a little less exciting.

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