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Mars Rovers Celebrate Their 1000th Sol On Mars 102

Cherita Chen writes, "Yesterday NASA, Cornell University, and the USGS celebrated the Mars Exploration Rovers' 1000th Sol on the Red Planet. The first rover to land, Spirit, reached the 1000 Sol mark a few weeks ago while the planet was in Solar conjunction. 'Opportunity,' Spirit's twin, and the second lander to make the bounce to Mars, celebrated the milestone yesterday while sitting atop Victoria Crater on the other side of Mars. Both Rovers are still operational (though Spirit is limping) and are sending back valuable data. Not bad for what was slated to be a '90 Sol' mission."
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Mars Rovers Celebrate Their 1000th Sol On Mars

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  • Come On. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:38PM (#16891204)
    Admit it, you're getting misty.
  • It's a new technique to take the load off of slashdot servers: now TFA comes pre-duped.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The moderator who called parent off-topic obviously didn't RTFA. C'mon, guys, pay attention before you mod...
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Headcase88 ( 828620 )
        Maybe this /. story could do with 4 or 5 less FAs. Everyone knows that us /.ers have the sterotype of having too busy a social life to read through this many articles :)
  • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:43PM (#16891256)
    considering the track record of failed missions [wikipedia.org].
    • This mission could be considered a failure as well. NASA completely and utterly failed in their estimation of how long these things would be operational. Now, it appears that this is a good thing, but it could very well have resulted in much waste. Suppose that some mission critical element such as communication channels had been designed with 90 sols in mind, and no more than 90 sols. Everything else would still work, but if you can't talk to the bot, it don't work. Or suppose that NASA had not been p
      • there is always something that limits your devices lifetime, what it will be is hard to predict especially when sending a brand new design that was strictly weight limited into a hostile environment with no chance of repair.

        i belive with this mission it was predicted to be dust on the solar panels (cleaning mechanisms would have added both a lot of weight and another major point of failure) that didn't happen to anywhere near the expected level due to the unexpected actions of the martian wind.

        there is also
  • Great achievement! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:46PM (#16891284)
    Not bad for a mission that cost less than $500 million. Fast, cheap, and still lasts a long time. Too bad they don't have nuclear power plants, as they'd be getting more work done faster.
    • We need to build a fleet of rovers based on the proven design of these two. Give them some new tools and obviously fix the problems with the current ones. I think the big two would be software and wheel motors, we could also give them more efficient solar cells.
      • by jamesh ( 87723 )
        Which is the greater... the cost of designing them, building them, getting them to mars, or controlling them once there?

        For a manufacturing run of two, I'm guessing that the design and build phase go hand in hand, but I suppose that if they used the same design then they could build quite a few for what it cost originally to build and design the two.

        But then they have to get them to mars, which may well dwarfs the cost of everything else, and then they have to control them throughout their lifetime once the
    • by jaywee ( 542660 )
      Actually, the cost was around $800M when they landed, now add few tens of $M for mission extensions.
  • Congrads NASA! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:47PM (#16891298)
    Biggest success since the Moon landing. It proves NASA can still excell they just need to dump some baggage like the shuttle and get back to what they do best, space exploration. I'd love to see them release a disk of all the Mars images. I'd pay good money for a full set of images especially if they included a set of the aerial shots. It could help open up the research to people that don't have direct access. A lot of things have been found just from Google earth. I'd really love to see a similar thing done with all the mars images. I know it's been started but there's a massive number of images availible. Better to have a few million eyes searching them than a few hundred.
    • Re:Congrads NASA! (Score:5, Informative)

      by jkerman ( 74317 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:14PM (#16891600)
      the nasa HiRSE team is releasing full resolution images from the new orbiter as they are processed. its fantastic! their site seems to be down at the moment but it has the pictures, and a sofar interesting blog from some of the image processing team http://hiroc.lpl.arizona.edu/ [arizona.edu]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Erpo ( 237853 )
      A lot of things have been found just from Google earth. I'd really love to see a similar thing done with all the mars images.

      http://www.google.com/mars/ [google.com]
    • All imagery from both MER rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) is available on the web; due to the distributed nature of the Cornell team it's not unusual for members of the thriving amateur data jockeys and pixel pushers to be working on stiching panoramas or integrating multiple wavelength versions of the same shot into colour versions before the actual team members see it. BTW:you'll need a lot, lot more than a single disk to get all the MER data, and when HiRISE gets going... heh,heh,heh ;))
  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:49PM (#16891312)
    Can we say it is due to the usual x10 engineering safety margin?

    90 sol * 10 -> 900. Sort of close to 1000%.

    The engineers would have looked at MTBF (mean time between failures) of the components and probably designed for at least a 99% survivability to 90 sol. This might factor down to a 90% survivability to 900 sol depending on the failure curves for the parts. So the the probability of two surviving that long would be 0.9 * 0.9 = 0.81 or 81% chance.
    • by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:00PM (#16891458)
      Spacecraft dont use x10 engineering safty margins.
      They dont even use 50% margines.

      If they did, they would never be able to lift of the ground.
    • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:02PM (#16891478) Homepage

      Can we say it is due to the usual x10 engineering safety margin?

      I don't know. How many other rovers have been deployed in the Martian environment that we can get data back from to determine component lifetimes? I only know of one, and it was a much smaller rover.

      I find it pretty amazing that these machines have worked as long as they have. I can't imagine it's an easy job to design a rover to last as long as it has without really being able to test the thing in the environment it's going to be in. Sure you can simulate parts of the environment, but I doubt you can simulate them all at the same time with all the parts working together.

      Many people seem to pooh-pooh the survivability of these things because they just assume they were over-engineered. I'm sure they were over-engineered, but the amazing thing is that they were over-engineered in the right way, and pretty cheaply too (820 million to get them to Mars and the first 90 days of operation).
      • Part of the reason for their durability is a response to the "metric conversion" orbiter failure and the Mars Polar Lander crash. NASA was embarassed up the wazoo and made extra sure it wouldn't happen with the next batch. A 3rd failure in less than a decade and many heads would be rolling. Thus, much of the rover success is due to (healthy?) paranoia.

        On a side note, I think they are being too cautious with Opportunity right now. They should send it into the crater *now* rather than search for the best entr

        • Part of the reason for their durability is a response to the "metric conversion" orbiter failure and the Mars Polar Lander crash.

          How would increasing durability of the rovers protect from a conversion error where the probe crashed into the surface? I guess I find it hard to believe that if NASA has the ability to make something extremely durable for a low cost they wouldn't do it ever time.

          On a side note, I think they are being too cautious with Opportunity right now. They should send it into the crater *n
          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
            How would increasing durability of the rovers protect from a conversion error where the probe crashed into the surface?

            Although one error was a conversion error, the other was bad mechanical design coupled with insufficient testing. Thus, QA across-the-board was increased.

            so power resources are rather limited. It seems a bit foolish to risk anything now when there's few power resources to spend trying to get out of getting "stuck" somewhere.

            They could go down a sun-facing slope.
        • On a side note, I think they are being too cautious with Opportunity right now. They should send it into the crater *now* rather than search for the best entrance. It is living on borrowed time and could croak any minute.

          ...but that statement's been true since Sol 1. One of the reasons the rovers have lasted so long is that the JPL teams have made intelligent trade-offs between not doing anything too hasty and wasting time. Oppy got stuck at Erebus for six months or more when it looked like the IDD join

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
            Whilst it's sitting still, the only wear on the vehicle is thermal cycling...

            Which can crack critical components and render the rover inopperable. Just because it hasn't happened yet does not mean it is not going to.
                     
            • No indeed, in fact one thing that IS certain is that something critical will break on the rovers sooner or later. However the Steve Squyres has said that the team plan each day as if it's the rover's last. Charging over the edge of the closet alcove (and losing mobility at the bottom, say) would lose us lots of great data from the remaining 90-120 degrees of the rim Steve's said they'll traverse before entering VC.
        • by BTWR ( 540147 )
          Read Roving Mars [amazon.com], by Steve Squyres, the Rover. You'll see how these were NOT "overengineered" and were NOT "easy" to do. A thousand things had to go right (after another thousand went wrong) to build and send those things the way they did it. It was passion, and a bit of luck that they succeeded. But a "conspiracy" (which is essentially what you're alluding to) it was not. As someone above said, it may very-well be their greatest success since Apollo 11.
    • by ajpr ( 921401 )
      Actually from what I remember, they designed the rovers to last only until a sand storm came along and covered the solar cells. They assumed that after the power down during the martian winter, too much sand would be covering the cells to allow the rovers to power up. However, the sand kept getting blown off the solar cells from the weak winds there, and this is really what has kept the rovers going for so long.

      (I learnt this info from a tv documentary with one of the engineers)
  • WTF is a Sol? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Palshife ( 60519 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:50PM (#16891330) Homepage
    From TFA, "A sol is a Martian day, which lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35 seconds."
  • "Sol?" What's wrong with "day"? A footnote to mention that they're counting in local days could be added if they think it's really necessary.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Mission planners have to be concerned with issues regarding solar days on the planet being explored and solar days on Earth.

      Using the same term for both would only lead to confusion, hence the use of different terms is very important. This is especially true on Mars, where the "sol" is very close to one Earth day long and it wouldn't necessarily be clear from context which was meant.

      There are many examples of NASA/JPL using unnecessary jargon, but this isn't one of them.
      • Re:Silly Jargon (Score:5, Insightful)

        by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:40PM (#16891840) Journal
        I just hope they never have probes on Mars and Venus at the same time because calling both types of day 'sol' will be confusing (though admittedly Venus is a little different). The length of the Martian day is a property of Mars, not of the Sun. It should have a name that reflects it's Martianness.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DarkProphet ( 114727 )
          How about talking in the context of Earth Days, Martian Days, Venusian Days, etc? I think its pretty understandable, moreso if the wikipedia pages ever turn up ;-)
        • I just hope they never have probes on Mars and Venus at the same time because calling both types of day 'sol' will be confusing
          not really, the teams controlling the probes will likely be pretty independent of each other.
      • This is why English has the option of including adjectives. The phrase "martian day" is a perfectly understandable alternative to the what-the-hell-does-it-mean "sol". Furthermore, given the fact that the unit "sol" is different lengths on different planets, and we'll have to specify "Venusian sol" when a long-term lander makes it to the surface of Venus, it's completely redundant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Because martians don't speak english.
    • Why not day^M verses day^E for us.
    • by Isaac-1 ( 233099 )
      They did not use the Sol naming system for us (the public) they use it for their own internal scheduling. Probably for both personel and onboard events. It is a simple one sylible word that is hard to confuse with anything else.
    • I think it's to differentiate from Earth days easily in case there'd be any ambiguity or reason for confusion without having to type "Martian day" until their fingers bleed.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:53PM (#16891390) Homepage
    So when did the Rovers pick up a Soul Cube?
  • The predictions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:56PM (#16891406) Homepage
    Not bad for what was slated to be a "90 Sol" mission."

    The predictions was probably made as some sort of "average", but the odds it'd last exactly 90 days was slim. I'd say the odds of not landing properly at all, or immobilized shortly sfter landing was fairly significant. It's like a computer surviving burn-in or a person surviving infant mortality (though they are much lower in recent year), then they're likely to live significantly well past average. Plus some luck with whirlwinds clearing the solar panels, I guess.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      The predictions was probably made as some sort of "average", but the odds it'd last exactly 90 days was slim. I'd say the odds of not landing properly at all, or immobilized shortly sfter landing was fairly significant. It's like a computer surviving burn-in or a person surviving infant mortality (though they are much lower in recent year), then they're likely to live significantly well past average. Plus some luck with whirlwinds clearing the solar panels, I guess.

      Indeed. I've read somewhere that statist
  • NICE! (Score:3, Informative)

    by protomala ( 551662 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @06:56PM (#16891420) Homepage
    I'm doing a paperwork about fault tolerancy on robotic systems.
    First the sensible robot, now mars rovers surviving, even without one wheel!


    What a happy day for me, eheheh.

  • Since Vista has been RTM, I declare the Rovers winners!

    It was always a tossup between a Rover death or Vista release,
    but Microsoft went into hurry-up mode.

    The really tough feat will be if the Rovers survive until
    Vista is no longer supported.

  • Sol2k "bug" (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) <`justin.wick' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday November 17, 2006 @07:20PM (#16891660)
    I've mentioned this on /. before. I used to work on MER (one of the devs of Science Activity Planner/Maestro, as featured on /.), and while lasting longer than 90 sols was not considered completely ridiculous, lasting over 1000 sols (with both rovers!!!) definitely was. Our directory structure contained a 3-digit sol number, and a lot of calculations were carried out using only the first 999 sols, including some code I wrote (knowing this to be the case).

    Luckily the Operational Softare System team had plenty of time to work this issue, and it even fascilitated the introduction of newer, more capable software into the mission, as if we were already changing everything, why not ad some great stuff. I wish everyone on MER great success with the next 1000 sols!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Our directory structure contained a 3-digit sol number, and a lot of calculations were carried out using only the first 999 sols, including some code I wrote (knowing this to be the case).

      John, I told you not to use COBOL in the rovers. You're so fired...
      ---
      Your boss
    • Congratulations to all you guys and gals that have worked on the MER's. It is just absolutely *amazing* how well these rovers have done. All of you guys deserve a lot of praise, great job!
      • Yeah many of my collegues were astoundingly talented, and it was pretty ridiculous that the mission even happened at all (read Dr. Squyre's book "Roving Mars" to see how many times it almost never was).

        The sad truth is that considering how inexpensive this mission was, if we had significantly more public support, we could easily have done ten of these without putting even a nick in the federal budget. Alas, it is not to be...
  • Shameless plug (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Take a look around: Interactive version of the McMurdo Panorama [fotoausflug.de]
  • Mars-Ride! (Score:3, Funny)

    by thewiz ( 24994 ) * on Friday November 17, 2006 @08:01PM (#16892004)
    Rollin', rollin', rollin' ?Rollin', rollin', rollin' ?Rollin', rollin', rollin' ?Rollin', rollin', rollin' ?Mars-Ride! ??Rollin', rollin', rollin' ?Though the water's frozen ?Keep them rovers rollin' ?Mars-Ride! ?Dust and wind and weather ?Hell-bent for leather ?Wishin' my pal was by my side. ?All the things I'm missin', ?History is waitin', ?Waiting at the end of our ride ??CHORUS ?Move 'em on, head 'em up ?Head 'em up, move 'em on ?Move 'em on, head 'em up ?Mars-Ride ?RAT 'em out, RAT 'em in, ?RAT 'em in, RAT 'em out, ?Count 'em up, Sort 'em out ?Mars-Ride! ??Keep movin', movin', movin' ?Though they're agin' ?Keep them rovers movin' ?Mars-Ride! ?Don't try to understand 'em ?Just RAT, photo, and sand 'em ?Soon we'll be living high and wide. ?My CPUs calculatin' ?History will be waitin', ?Be waitin' at the end of our ride. ??Mars-Ride! ?Mars-Ride! ?
  • Ah but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Salsaman ( 141471 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @08:15PM (#16892158) Homepage
    are those metric Sols or Imperial Sols ;-)

    Anyway, congratulations NASA !
  • by HoneyBeeSpace ( 724189 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @10:01PM (#16892954) Homepage
    If you'd like to track the (global) location and the time of the Mars rovers, or the time for any location on Mars, you can do so on your Palm Pilot with MarsClock [dyndns.org], written 100% (coded, compiled, debuged) on my Palm with OnBoardC [sf.net].
  • NASA Propaganda (Score:3, Insightful)

    by edbarbar ( 234498 ) on Friday November 17, 2006 @10:04PM (#16892978)
    > Not bad for what was slated to be a '90 Sol'

    They intentionally underestimate the operational duration of the equipment to continually "WOW" the public. "Undercommit, overdeliver."

    Something Engineers need to do to when scheduling their projects.
    • Something Engineers need to do to when scheduling their projects.

      From the ST:TNG episode Relics, an engineer should always heed the wisdon of Scotty's words.... (shamelessly plagarized from a past /. posting [slashdot.org])

      Scotty: "Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want."
      LaForge: "Yeah, well, I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour."
      Scotty: "How long will it really take?"
      LaFo
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      They intentionally underestimate the operational duration of the equipment to continually "WOW" the public. "Undercommit, overdeliver."

      IIRC, some contractor payments are based on duration. Thus, they are not arbitrary.
           
  • Johnny 5 is alive!
  • 'Opportunity,' Spirit's twin, and the second lander to make the bounce to Mars,

    Actually it was the 3rd. The 1997 Sojourner rover also used air bags (but bundled with lander station).
         
  • A guy I know is fond of asking, if the rovers have lasted this long, aren't they over engineered?

    That is, the engineers obviously went way beyond the spec if the things are still working 10x longer than they should have.
  • running Windows. No way they'd be at 1000 sols without a BSOD.
  • I read the synopsis and all I could think of was 'Victoria's Secret Crater'.

    Not even having an S.O. seems to help....

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