Mars Rover on Yahoo

Yeah, I know this isn’t technically FIRST related, but I think that it’s cool that Yahoo’s giving us an update

NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity still probing Mars after two years Thu Dec 29,11:05 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nearly two years after landing on the Red Planet, NASA exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to send back amazing images and information about Mars in a mission long outpacing expectations.


Since landing on opposite sides of Mars in January 2004, the US space agency’s two robotic explorers have plowed over five kilometers (three miles) of the planet’s surface and sent back more than 130,000 pictures, many of them stunning depictions of a desolate, arid but highly varied landscape.

The two also continue to reveal Mars’ geological secrets, digging into soil and overturning rocks to provide evidence that water once featured on the planet’s surface, creating possibly habitable conditions.

But what has equally pleased the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is that the two rovers have far exceeded their 90-day missions, lasting through one full Mars year – 669 Mars days, the equivalent of 687 Earth days.

“The rovers went through all of the Martian seasons and are back to late summer. We’re preparing for the challenge of surviving another Martian winter,” John Callas, NASA’s deputy rover project manager said on NASA’s website.

But recently the two explorers have shown signs of fatigue, and the Mars winter could test their solar batteries’ ability to keep functioning.

The two robots continue to discover new variations in the sedimentary rocks on the Mars surface and more evidence of the former presence of water.

Their discoveries were confirmed in November by data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter which detected, for the first time, water ice under the soil of Mars’ northern pole.

On December 5, ESA reported that data from Mars Express indicates that some 3.2 billion years ago the planet underwent a cataclysmic change that turned it from humid, with significant amounts of surface water, to dry and cold as it is today.

NASA’s Spirit rover, which landed in the Gusev crater on January 3, 2004, was recently moved down from the 46 meter (151 foot) apex of ‘Husband Hill’, from where it had surveyed the landscape for one month.

The robot’s controllers on Earth were preparing to move it south to another hill where they hope to maximise its solar-cell output during the winter.

Opportunity, which alit on the Meridiani Planum around Mars’ other side from Spirit on January 24, 2004, has been examining bedrock exposures along a route between the craters Endurance and Victoria.

The data collected by Opportunity suggests cyclical changes at one time from drier to wetter conditions, NASA said.

But the two rovers’ performance has begun to sag, long after the maximum lifespan of 270 days that NASA had projected for them in tests.

In late November a mechanical arm on Opportunity stopped working, as one of its key driving motors stalled. It took NASA engineers two weeks to get the arm operational, but they are still concerned that it might fail again.

“If it has failed, it will be a significant hit. It is the contact arm of the mission,” Callas said.

He also said that part of the robot’s directioning system was broken, but that it would not prevent NASA from directing the machine.

Spirit has worn better, with only an instrument used to scrape rocks showing wear and tear, Callas said. It was expected to undertake only three tests, but has done 15 so far.

But with the two Mars explorers having surpassed their expected lifespans by more than double, NASA scientists are fatalistic about their prospects.

“We drive it every day as if there were no tomorrow,” said Stephen Squyres of Cornell University, the principal investigator for Spirit’s scientific instruments.

There has been a question that has been puzzling me.
Maybe Dave, you could answer it, or someone else could.

With the rovers, what is going to happen to them when they are done? Such as if Opportunity’s arm were to break and not able to be repaired. Does NASA have some way of returning the rovers back to Earth, or when they stop working do they not plan to see them again until the year 2020 when we land on Mars?

when they stop working they become martian trash, and someone at NASA has to pay a $500 fine for littering the martian landscape :^)

The rovers are not intended to be returned to earth, but there are plans on the drawingboard for a mission to collect martian soil samples and bring them back to earth for more thorough analysis.

Ahh, Skylab, Skylab, wherefore art though? :smiley:

last I heard, Skylab was smeared all over the australian outback. I think you can buy pieces of it from time to time on ebay!

Well, this is completely off topic, but according to the History channel, NASA never paid that fine. :rolleyes:

I’m sure no other country ever has either and that’s why NASA isn’t…

We have never figured out who to write the check to…

But, yes, the rovers are still going strong and doing admirably well. Having Spirit pass her second anniversary on Mars, and Opportunity about to do the same, has been a VERY well appreciated present for the team. We don’t know how long they are going to last, and we are treating every extra day of operations on Mars as an extremely valuable resource. They could stop operating tomorrow, or go on for another two years. We are now in an area that is so far beyond the original designed lifetime that we just don’t know.

But since our rovers are rapidly approaching 10 times their intended lifetimes, we have received a few requests to consider building the next generation of automobiles. We were thinking about it, until someone pointed out that we might have a hard time getting a lot of takers with the $461,000,000 per unit price point…


cough Also completely off topic (but one of my biggest pet peeves ;)) …

wherefore is an adjective meaning “for what reason” or “why” - it isn’t a synonym for “where”, as many people believe!

I wonder how much a piece of Skylab goes for… and how do you know it’s REALLY a piece of Skylab? It could just be charred piece of farm equiptment.

I saw the piece of Skylab they have at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville (Supposidly the largest piece left. An Oxygen tank I believe.) It’s about 3’ long and probably has a diameter of 2’ if I remember correctly. I’ll try to remeber to bring a measuring tape with me when I head down there again later this month.

Hah, whoops, I occasionally get caught up in this “Pop Culture Cliche” thing. :smiley:

But, back on topic, how does NASA repair mechanical problems with the rovers? There can’t be that many technicians versed in robot repair on Mars… The article stated that a drive motor had stalled, so how is that fixed remotely? Not to downplay the work NASA engineers do, but do they basically direct the rover to “thrash” around until they can clear, or force, the problem?

As the founder and director of the Interplanetary Woodsie the Owl Foundation, I respectfully request that the $500 (per Rover, that is) check be made out to your’s truly.
I will invoice/ticket you when and if your machines ever break down.

this would be a great bit for a TV show or TV station. When the rovers finally give out call a wrecking yard and tell them you have a disabled vehicle you need towed, and how much do they pay for scrape metal?

Then tell them where its located.

Or NASA could donate them, turn them into ‘Kidney-rovers’ (maybe sell off the titles to the rovers on ebay, and donate the proceeds - wouldnt it be awesome to own one of the rovers? :^)

I would love to see that ad on the ebay motor website:

2004 Mars rover
14 original miles
over $500,000,000 invested
not running - sold as is, where is
winner must pick up, will not ship.
all proceeds go to charity