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Mars Probe May Have Spotted Sojourner Rover 149

Maggie McKee writes "NASA's eagle-eyed Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may have spotted the tiny, toaster oven-sized Sojourner rover just a few meters away from its companion, the Mars Pathfinder lander. It appears to have crawled there in an attempt to re-establish contact with the lander after the lander had already died. But the pictures aren't clear enough to definitively ID the rover, and it's possible Sojourner simply took off on its own. If it were miraculously still alive after 10 years, it could be 3 kilometers away from Pathfinder — and probably impossible to find, even with MRO."
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Mars Probe May Have Spotted Sojourner Rover

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  • I spy (Score:4, Funny)

    by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:33PM (#17576354) Journal
    I spy with my litle eye something that starts with S.

    • I Spy BIGGER picture (Score:5, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @04:25PM (#17579962)
      The article links to a downsized picture. If you really want in on the fun, download the 6.2 MB full size image [] from the MRO website.

      The Pathfinder lander itself is labeled MPF. It's about 2/3 of the way across the image (to the right) and perhaps 500 pixels from the top. It appears lighter than the surrounding material, roughly triangular [] in shape, and has a slight shadow to the right.

      I'm not sure which point they think is the adorable little Sojourner [] (pic of mockup next to Spirit and Odyssey on earth), but I think it's the two light grey pixels with a shadow about 15-20 pixels north of Pathfinder. That may just be one of the rocks it studied, though.

      The parachute and backshell are also labeled. The round object is the aerodynamic backshell that covered the top of the lander during entry. It is attached to the parachute, which is draped over the ground a few meters northeast.

      The think the heatshield fragments are pretty self-explanatory, although I'm unsure why it's so scattered. It must have broken up, probably tumbling, shortly after being released.

      The distribution of parts around the landscape makes some sense if you know how it landed. Pathfinder entered the Martian atmosphere at about 17,000 mph. It aerobraked using the heatshield down to about 900 mph. After two minutes, the parachute deployed and the heat shield was released. The lander was then lowered on a tether so it would be clear of the backshell. 8 seconds before touchdown, the airbags inflated and retrorockets fired. 2 seconds before touchdown, the tether was cut, with the retrorockets carrying the backshell safely away from the lander, and the Pathfinder bounced down onto its airbags.

      I think the Pathfinder payed for itself just in coolness (come on...airbags! Who thinks this stuff up?). Add science and engineering lessons learned, and this mission is priceless.
    • ... what's that horseshoe-shaped arrangement of little rounded dome-like things in the picture in the article? Look about 1/4 of the way down, 1/3 of the way across.
  • Rover (Score:5, Funny)

    by master_kaos ( 1027308 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:35PM (#17576384)
    Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Come Over
  • by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:36PM (#17576414)



  • by UberHoser ( 868520 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:36PM (#17576418)
    Sorry, the image of the little one crawling to it's dad after a crash.. kinda choked me up ....
  • by jank1887 ( 815982 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:36PM (#17576420)
    Was anyone else reminded of the scene when the one robot finds the other one after the guy hit it with an axe? Poor little robot...
  • by BubbaFett ( 47115 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:36PM (#17576428)
    Is Mars so boring now that we're just sending things there to look at other things we've sent there?
    • by MyHair ( 589485 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:44PM (#17576612) Journal
      From TA I gather they wanted to see what Sojourner did after losing did its programming to return to base play out?

      I'm guessing it's also a sanity check of several factors.

      Plus it's nifty cool!

      Lastly, perhaps seeing how various known objects appear on the images will help them look for crash sites like Beagle's. MPL presumably is flying through space somewhere, but if they weren't confident of that they could look for its crash site, too.

      Even more lastly it's probably interesting to see how the weather affects conditions around long-sitting known objects. Do dunes build up? Do they get dusty or does the wind clean them? Etc.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by sparky555 ( 986576 )
        MPL isn't flying through space - it did crash, and they did try to image it. ues.html []
        • by MyHair ( 589485 )
          Oops. You're right. I should quit relying on my memory for posting any facts.

          Wasn't there some Mars craft that is hurtling aimlessly in space now? Maybe I'm remembering MCO [], but this article says it probably burned and broke up in the atmosphere.
          • by Pooua ( 265915 )
            MyHair: "Wasn't there some Mars craft that is hurtling aimlessly in space now?"

            There are several Mars probes that match that description, but you are probably thinking of the billion-dollar Mars Observer, which was lost in 1993.

            FYI, more than half of the missions launched to Mars have failed. Many of those failures continued sailing on through space.
    • by x2A ( 858210 )
      Haha, beginning on Time Trumpet (episode 6) -

      "It's 2031, and we've accomplished so much, we're actually running out of things to do. NASA has just sent a probe to Mars to look for the five pound note they hid there two years earlier."

      Very funny. Anyone who liked The Day Today will like Time Trumpet.
  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:39PM (#17576484) a dorky kind of way.
    • by Gax ( 196168 )
      Any bets that Disney will make a kids movie called Little lost Rover?
      • by Tackhead ( 54550 )
        > Any bets that Disney will make a kids movie called Little lost Rover?

        No, but Futurama will do "Martian Bark". Poor Sojourner Seymour.

      • Disney huh... so when the little orphaned robot learns how to love the martians adopt it and bring it to live in their glorious underground city. (I just threw up in mouth a little)
    • by Pinkfud ( 781828 )
      I was thinking the same thing. It's like Marvin the paranoid robot. "I can't do what I was supposed to do. My existence is meaningless. Guess I'll just stand over here and rust".
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rcatarella ( 239076 )
      Robots hate to be anthropomorphized ;)
      • by bcat24 ( 914105 )
        Indeed. The summary makes it sound like a poor, helpless little critter to be pitied. Aww....
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:42PM (#17576570)
    I'm a little robot.
    I'm a little robot who is lost.
    I'm a little robot who is lost from Earth.
    If I'm a little robot who is found, please call the interstellar hot line 1-800-LOSTROBOTS.
    • Princess Vespa: I don't have to take this. I'm Rich!
      DOT Matrix: What are you going to do?
      Princess Vespa: I'm calling my father! 1-800-DRU-ID-I-A
    • by smorken ( 990019 )
      if I looking for robot
      him name is Sojourner red robot
      I lost my frog
      P.S. I'll find my robot
      Who took my robot
      Who found my robot
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder why don't they try to image probes from Russian Mars probe program []? It would be interesting and important to know why did they ultimately failed. Mars 2 and 3 even had small rovers which maybe could be imaged, if they were deployed.
    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      MRO has only been on station a few months, since March []. Imaging these four American landers [] were probably higher priorities than older Soviet landers. One might also ask when we'll get images of the defunct Beagle 2 lander [] from the ESA's Mars Express [] mission. It died somewhere on descent.

      Give JPL enough time, I'm sure they'll locate every little man-made scap [] we've placed on the surface of Mars.
      • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:37PM (#17578846) Journal
        MRO has only been on station a few months, since March. Imaging these four American landers were probably higher priorities than older Soviet landers.

        I believe the appearent bias is for technical reasons, such as newer radio tracking technology, and the fact that surface images are used to help find the landing sites. No Soviet probe ever returned a surface image.

        Somebody discovered that if they stretch the vertical scale of a Viking surface image, the distant hills were more easy to see. This allowed them to match them to orbiter photos of the general vacinity.

        The Sojourner landing set found two fairly large hills in the distance that were used to pinpoint their spot.

        The two current rovers also sent back images from about a mile high just before landing for the very purpose of finding them from orbit. (Technically the camera was on the outer appuratus, not the rovers themselves.)

        This is partly in response to the lost Polar Lander, which they are still looking for to gain clues to what went wrong. The fact that Polar Lander didn't send radio signals nor images is why it is still lost. Thus, Polar Lander is in the same boat as the Soviet landers and Beagle.

        It is not nationalism bias, at least not yet.
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )
      I believe they hope to, but first they need a good idea of where to look for them; the higher the camera resolution, the smaller the area of the surface they can search at any time.

      There was some discussion about looking for the Russian probes on the forums.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:45PM (#17576630) Journal
    So when contact with the lander, which was designed to last one month, was lost after three months, ground controllers were not sure what became of Sojourner.
    What callous monsters these NASA people are! Poor Sojourner was left to wander around with no means of communicating back home, while dying a slow and lonely death. I had to wipe the tears from my eyes as I read that story.
    • I felt so sad when I thought of Sojurner wandering around aimlessly, slowly dying itself, while searching for its big brother Pathfinder, who had already died... *tear*

      I think I'm watching too much anime at this point...
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:37PM (#17577672) Journal
      Poor Sojourner was left to wander around with no means of communicating back home, while dying a slow and lonely death.

      It will meet up with Spirit and together they will party and have children. They are the Adam and Eve of Mars. 6000 years from now billions of robots will read about them in Genesis of the Mars Bible. But the Mars evolutionists will insist Sojourner evolved from toasters and staplers instead of having a Creator (JPL).
      • You win the thread! That was the first post in a long time that made me want to be a moderator again!
      • by bcat24 ( 914105 )
        Best. Slashdot. Post. Ever.
      • But the Mars evolutionists will insist Sojourner evolved from toasters and staplers instead of having a Creator (JPL).

        Ah yes, while the faithful will quietly and solemnly intone the names of the Father (NASA), the Son (JPL), and The Holy Spirit (Aerospace engineering).

        Awesome. Reminds me of the story from I, Robot where the robot takes over the power transmission station on Mercury and basically develops a religion around keeping the power beam properly focused.
  • My eyes and monitor are good, but I can't tell what the labels are to. Couldn't anyone draw a line to whatever the item is that they think is the rover? I'm just not seeing it at all. It's like where's Waldo in black and white but with a much, much smaller Waldo.
  • It's so bad that the editors of the article forgot to include a scale to indicate the actual size of the area in the image.
  • by Cylix ( 55374 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:48PM (#17576688) Homepage Journal
    One probe leaves...

    • by Skadet ( 528657 )
      ...and later the other probe leaves, after being declared the winner.
    • Small Probe and Big Probe fly into an upper atmo bar.
      The ex-NASA bartender says, "What'll it be, boys?"
      Small Probe responds "I'll have a Pint of ale, please."
      Big Probe says, "I'll have a Liter of ale, please."
      The ex-NASA bartender just gives them a Quart of ale each, which they drink and then leave.

      Small Probe crashes his ride and dies in a pool of his own vomit. Big Probe lands safely, a bit pissed that he got ripped off on his drink, but later ends up in therapy since he blames himself for Small Prob

  • I think I saw the prequel [] to this movie [] when I was a kid...
  • This is a "robot revenge on humans" story waiting to happen!

    I suggest the following survival guide: How To Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion []

  • If the rover is still functioning can it be used to take more measurements? Would there even be a point, or has the rover been made obselete by the newer ones?
    • Negative. Sojourner talks through Pathfinder. Since Pathfinder's dead, Sojourner's mute. Crudely speaking, look at it as a DSL line with your PC as Soj and the modem as Path. Dead modem, the PC doesn't talk to NASA.
  • an infographic [] listing the challenges NASA faces with the rovers, and one of them is "Must maneuver around burnt-out hunks of failed probes littering Martian surface"
  • by HoneyBeeSpace ( 724189 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:56PM (#17576910) Homepage
    If you want to geek out and track the lifespan of the various Mars missions, you can do so on your Palm with MarsClock []. If you want the desktop version check out Mars24 []. Both should be updated for Pheonix sometime this year.
  • Did anyone else read that headline as "Sigourney Weaver"?

    I'm going to go crawl into my hole now...


    • Did anyone else read that headline as "Sigourney Weaver"?
      I'm going to go crawl into my hole now...

      Speak for yourself. I'll be in my bunk...

  • by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @01:58PM (#17576966) Homepage
    There is a collection of much higher resolution pictures on the NASA site [] to the point you can see the ramps on the lander.

    It is difficult to see whether the sojurner rover is nearby or not. The programming was set to make it do so but I like the thought of an intrepid little robot setting off on it's own.

    "It's a magical world, Hobbes old buddy. Let's go exploring"
  • by Alzheimers ( 467217 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:08PM (#17577128)
    We're spending all this money so we can spot a lost robot millions of miles away, so why can't we point it back at earth and help me find my KEYS!

  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:12PM (#17577194) Homepage Journal
    After we colonize Mars, the first one to find it gets a 25 million dollar coffee table for their new home!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pluther ( 647209 )
      It's actually only a $49.00 coffee table. The rest is Ikea's home delivery charge.
  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:19PM (#17577322)
    What most amazes me are the Viking landers. Looking at some of the pictures they took, the quality is just great. And they kept transmitting information for years - I think Viking 2 finally died in 1982 or something, six years after landing. Cult 1970s technology!
    • What most amazes me are the Viking landers. Looking at some of the pictures they took, the quality is just great. And they kept transmitting information for years - I think Viking 2 finally died in 1982 or something, six years after landing. Cult 1970s technology!

      Not to denigrate that "cult 1970's technology," but what's really sad about this is how pretty much all of our post-Viking landers have been limited by batteries and solar cells, whereas the "old" 70's tech had long-lived radioisotope thermal gener
      • What a pity the anti-nuke crowd is so paranoid that we're forced to limit the exploration of Mars because their knee-jerk reactions to anything nuclear border on the hysterical.

        Do these people really make a difference? I remember hippies protesting over Cassini but that didn't stop the mission. Did NASA actually want to use RTGs on these Martian probes and get flamed into submission? If they did, then they're wussies.

        • by cdipierr ( 4045 )
          No, these probes were never to have RTGs as they were part of the "better, faster, cheaper" initiative. RTGs are many things, but they're not cheap. Additionally, the sun is strong enough for solar to work well on Mars as they latest landers have shown. RTGs are better suited for deep space missions like Cassini where you'd never be able to use solar and batteries wouldn't have the lifespan in the harsh cold.

          That said, the Cassini protest got real press, even 60 Minutes did a piece. The main issue with it w
      • Re:Viking landers (Score:4, Insightful)

        by abigor ( 540274 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:45PM (#17577838)
        Fully agreed, I have long been a proponent of nuclear power - I can remember talking about this nearly 10 years ago, and not just for powerplants in spacecraft, but also as the real answer to air quality issues, foreign oil dependence, and so forth. To be honest, there is a significant number of enviro types who are pro-nuclear, but they tend to be in the rationalist camp. The emotional camp, always the larger and more vocal of the two, consistently drowns out the rationalists in any debate.

        It was such emotional arguments that cancelled the U.S. Integral Fast Reactor back in the '90s (I think it was), and has retarded the deployment of reactors in general all over the place in favour of coal, etc.
      • The scope of these missions and the power needed makes RTG a wasted expense. Now that exploring mars is 'hot' and theres more money/congressional interest the next genertion of rovers will have on-board RTGs. No hippies to blame.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      You're confusing dates and events, but essentially yes. Viking 2 failed in 1980 after 3 1/2 years due to battery failure. Viking 1 survived for over six years until 1982. It didn't actually die on its own, we broke it. An update to the battery charging software overwrote the antenna positioning software and contact was lost.

  • We're going to *have* to colonize Mars just so we can issue ourselves a junkyard permit.

  • Wondering Mystery (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )
    This would be great if confirmed. The rover was programmed to move toward the lander station if I did not receive any commands for a certain period of time in order to improve its radio signal with the lander. But without a way to communicate with Earth (probably because the lander's batteries died and that rover relied on the lander for Earth contact), JPL had no way to know what the rover was doing during this time and if this emergency procedure was carried out. Now we may have an idea about how the rove
  • I thought the Mars Pathfinder lander had been renamed Sagan Memorial Station []?
  • In case of communications failure, the Sojourner rover was programmed to return to the lander and circle it. It's unlikely that it's kilometers away.
    • by Pooua ( 265915 )
      And, if we come back in a few months, will that little speck be in the same place, or is it endlessly circling Sojourner?
      • It depends on the programming. It could be cycling between "Explore until you get out of range" and "If out of range, return to Base". Of course, since the batteries are long since dead, it will only be doing this during the day, when there's enough light to run off of the solar panels. On the other hand, it could be just sitting there, waiting for instructions.
  • What this photo doesn't show is the large army of killer robots just off frame [].
  • it's possible Sojourner simply took off on its own.

    Now that's just incredibly cool... A rover with self motivation.

    I can't wait for the next news story that Sojourner is driving around Mars, stealing parts off other rovers to repair and improve itself...

    We may have the first Mars ghost story.
  • Toaster size?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by deggy ( 195861 )
    The pathfinder rover is 63cm long. How many toasters are 63cm long? Come on Slashdot. If you're going to make a comparison, at least ensure it is apt.
  • that's not a sojourner, it's a SCHOONER!
  • Are we sure it's not 3cm, or 3mi? How about 3"?

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