Meanwhile, Back On The Red Planet.......

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Peter Kline, Apr 18, 2004.

  1. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    From Wireservices:

    NASA plots next steps for Mars rovers

    With the Mars rovers still functioning after completing their missions, NASA is planning their overtime work.

    PASADENA, Calif. - The rovers have already made history. They landed safely on Mars, motored around its surface, photographed everything in sight and found evidence that today's rock-strewn wasteland once accommodated liquid water.

    Pretty good. Now what?

    That is the question that scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are asking this month as the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, complete the job they were sent to do. From now on, they are on overtime as they embark on extended forays expected to last until the middle of September -- perhaps beyond.

    The extra mission begins May 1, but the transition is well underway. Planners have found $15 million in additional funding, started software upgrades for the rovers and put scientists on Earth time after three exhausting months of round-the-clock -- the Mars clock -- staffing.

    They have also chosen new targets to explore. After a mostly uneventful sojourn at Gusev Crater, Spirit is embarked on a nine-tenths-of-a-mile drive to a highland known as Columbia Hills, where planners hope to find rock outcrops that will provide new insights into Mars' geologic history.

    Opportunity, meanwhile, has begun a 750-yard traverse to the edge of a crater dubbed Endurance. Scientists hope to find as much as 100 feet of exposed rock that could offer fresh clues about the extent of an ancient salt sea whose traces Opportunity discovered only a few yards from its landing site on Meridiani Planum.

    If the crater shows promise, Opportunity's handlers may decide to drive into it. If it shows spectacular promise, they may plunge in, even if they might never get out.

    ''The rovers go down a lot better than they go up,'' flight system manager Richard Cook said. ``Will we take the bird in the hand? There will be a strong inclination to do that.''

    The major imponderable is how long the two rovers will function. The mission's 90-day design life ran out for Spirit on April 5 and will run out for Opportunity on April 26, but neither machine shows the slightest sign of slowing down, wearing out, losing communications, freezing to death, blowing an engine or otherwise falling apart.

    Cook said engineers have had several major concerns about the rovers' hardware, beginning with the falling efficiency of the solar arrays that charge the vehicles' batteries. During the first part of the mission, charging capacity declined by 0.13 percent per day because of dust accumulating on the array panels.

    But Cook noted that the 1997 Mars Pathfinder arrays stopped degrading after a 20 percent loss of efficiency, probably because new dust either blew away or created a prism effect that helped the batteries charge. The same thing appears to be happening with the new rovers, he said.

    As a result, he added, the rovers should be able to function until Mars' winter solstice, Sept. 20, even though the sun's power diminishes with the cold season's advance.
     
  2. Jan Strnad

    Jan Strnad Screenwriter

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    Yeah, but...what about the hairless Martian cats that the tabloids have reported? How come NASA is keeping the wraps on that little discovery? And they haven't even brought up the big question, and that's "Is Mars an angry red planet or just mildly disgruntled?"

    Jan
     
  3. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

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    Malcolm
    I suppose this "overtime work" is going to have an overtime cost associated with it as well?
     
  4. Kevin Farley

    Kevin Farley Second Unit

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    Hello? windshield wipers?
     
  5. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

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    It's breaking records also !

    from Space.Com:

    Three days after switching to new software with mobility-enhancing features, NASA's Opportunity shattered the record for a single day's driving on Mars. The rover covered 140.9 maters (462 feet) during its 82nd sol on Mars, ending at 2:15 p.m. PDT, Saturday, May 17. That is about 40 meters farther than either the best previous one-day drive, by Opportunity two weeks ago, or the total distance covered by NASA's smaller Sojourner rover during its entire three-month mission in 1997.


    I wouldn't worry too much about the additional cost. Daily operational costs are probably minimal compared to the R&D and transport. Now they are onsite and running properly, you just have the additional coffee and doughnut expense for everyone working 24x7 in amazement at these little buggers.
     
  6. BrianShort

    BrianShort Supporting Actor

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    Would probably just scratch the solar panels, making things even worse. In any case, they expect the loss of solar input from dust to level off, so that won't be a problem. The increasing cold and decreasing sunlight will be, but I read that both rovers should last well into September! [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Brian
     
  7. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    The article states that NASA has additional funding to continue on (they anticipated this). Remember all the money goes to people working here on earth. Not a nickel goes to any martians, if you're concerned.
     
  8. Scott Strang

    Scott Strang Screenwriter

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    Good thing too. Since no one has talked to any Martians (or at least not yet that we know of) we have no way knowing their exchange rate or if they even have an economic infrastructure.
     
  9. Ricardo C

    Ricardo C Producer

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    Oh how I wish someday a probe will be specifically sent to Cydonia to finally do an up-close study of "the face" (any chance the rovers can get there? [​IMG]) Maybe Richard Hoagland's head will explode :p)
     
  10. Steve Ridges

    Steve Ridges Stunt Coordinator

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    What to do next...hmm...I'm thinking battle bots?
     

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