The Little Rover That Could

Opportunity makes the most of its opportunity.

NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record

Nov. 11, 1982 was a bittersweet day on Earth. It was Veterans Day; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington would be dedicated that weekend. And at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., engineers made a mistake.

They were trying to nurse along the Viking 1 lander on Mars, which had touched down there in 1976 — and surprised them by surviving in the eternal cold there for six years, three months, and 22 days. They transmitted new commands to the ship’s computer so that its batteries would hold a charge better. By accident, they erased data that helped the lander aim its antenna to Earth. Viking 1 was never heard from again.

But its record for longevity has stood. Until now.

Today the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, becomes the longest-lasting earthly visitor ever to the Martian surface. It is still going after 2,247 “sols,” or Martian days. It was designed to last for 90.

“Remember, 90 days is when the warranty runs out,” said Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, after they landed three weeks apart. “It’s not when the wheels fall off.”

Opportunity’s six wheels have occasionally gotten stuck, and one of them will no longer steer. Its circuit boards have had to withstand the subzero temperatures of Martian winters, and another is beginning. Its solar panels, at times, have been covered with fine red silt, which made them almost useless for gathering sunlight to make electricity. Life on Mars is tough.

But the solar panels have mercifully been blown clean every time by gusts of wind, much to the relief of NASA engineers. Careful maneuvering has gotten Opportunity out of the sand — once after six weeks of trying. Today they celebrated Opportunity’s record by doing what they’ve been doing since 2008 — keeping the rover on a forced march to a large crater called Endeavour, now eight miles away on the horizon.

See also:
New Record Set for Longest Mission on Mars
Mars Rover Surpasses Viking 1’s Longevity Record
Longevity Record on Mars for a NASA Space Rover
Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record
Mars rover surpasses Viking 1’s longevity record
NASA Mars rover Opportunity breaks longevity record
Opportunity rover breaks Mars longevity record
Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Home
Mars Exploration Rover

/now that’s what’s called bang for the buck, if only Congress were this efficient with our tax dollars

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Five More Times

UPDATE:

NASA suspends shuttle flights pending probe

NASA will suspend flights of its space shuttle fleet until it understands why strips of insulating foam peeled off the fuel tank used by shuttle Endeavour during Wednesday’s launch, officials said.

“We’re not worried about this one, but we need to understand what’s going on for the next flight,” said shuttle program manager John Shannon said on Thursday.

/not good

After five delays for one reason or another, Endeavour, STS-127 finally got off the ground.

Endeavour, STS-127 Crew Begin Complex Mission

Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts are in orbit after an on-time launch at 6:03 p.m. EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Following a smooth countdown with no technical issues and weather that steadily improved throughout the afternoon, the shuttle lifted off from Launch Pad 39A and began its orbital chase of the International Space Station.

“It was a testimony for this entire launch and flight control team,” Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said of the countdown and successful liftoff, which came on the sixth launch attempt after technical issues and weather concerns prevented the first five tries. “It was an outstanding effort, and it made the complex look really easy. It really was a case of persistence.”

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations, also commended the launch effort, but cautioned that the mission to come is “very challenging,” with five spacewalks and robotic activities scheduled. “The teams are fully prepared — they’re ready to go do what they need to go do, and we look forward to the exciting activities as we install the Exposed Facility out on the Kibo module.”

Whether it got off the ground safely or not is still under review.

Debris Strikes Endeavour During Liftoff

As the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off into orbit Wednesday evening, several pieces of debris fell off the external fuel tank, and at least one hit the orbiter.

Astronauts in space and engineers on the ground will spend the next few days examining and analyzing the damage to see if it might pose a danger to the shuttle on re-entry.

See also:
Space shuttle blasts off after month’s delay
NASA Finally Launches Endeavour Space Shuttle on 6th Try
Space Shuttle Endeavour finally lifts off
Shuttle Endeavour blasts off; debris strikes mulled
Space shuttle suffered ‘minor’ damage at launch
NASA Eyes Debris Hits to Shuttle Heat Shield
STS-127 Mission Information
International Space Station
Kibo Japanese Experiment Module
JAXA Kibo Web Site

It’s obviously not the first time this has happened, but I sure hope this debris strike turns out to be nothing and Endeavour and crew return to Earth safely. These space shuttles are inherently dangerous to fly as witnessed by the fact that we’ve already lost 40% of the entire fleet, with the loss of 14 astronauts.

And why do we keep taking the risk of flying to the ISS and continue it’s construction anyway?

NASA to De-Orbit International Space Station In 2016

Despite nearing completion after more than a decade of construction, and recently announcing some upcoming improvements to accompany its full crew of six astronauts, NASA plans to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. Meaning the station will have spent more time under construction than completed.

The fact that the ISS has already had $100 billion dumped into it over the years is reason for criticism over the proposed de-orbiting. Proponents of the extra-terrestrial shelter feel 2016 would be too soon to let the 700,000 pound craft crash into the Pacific Ocean. Critics against it say it wastes too much money with few tangible outcomes.

Many of the station’s research programs have already been cut and the US Space Shuttle program is ending in 2010, which leaves few big-ticket programs left on the agenda (save for the station’s yet-to-be-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which searchers for dark- and anti-matter).

See also:
International Space Station, still under construction, may be debris by 2016
Space Station Is Near Completion, Maybe the End
ISS To Go Bye-Bye in 2016?

We haven’t even finished building the damn thing yet and we’re already planning to splash it into the ocean a few years later? What’s the point of further risking lives on dangerous shuttle flights for that?

/if we can’t afford the ISS then, we can’t afford it now