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Unmanned Spaceflight.com > Mars & Missions > MER > Tech, General and Imagery
AlexBlackwell
A couple of interesting MER-related stories (1, 2) on Space.com today, although it seems to me that many of the details in the first story we learned from Doug's November 6, 2006, interview with Squyres.
Myran
Oh yes I read them too, so who might this person be the Stuart Atkinson who makes colourized panoramas and writing poetry about the Mars rover mission.... tongue.gif
Shaka
QUOTE (Myran @ Dec 28 2006, 08:45 AM) *
Oh yes I read them too, so who might this person be the Stuart Atkinson who makes colourized panoramas and writing poetry about the Mars rover mission.... tongue.gif

Way to spread The Gospel, Stuey! mars.gif
I guess there's room enough for the two of us here inside Oppy. cool.gif
Stu
Didn't know that story was going up until I read it there... bit sentimental for some, I guess, but just the way I am. smile.gif
tuvas
That's cool man, the best I did on space.com was get one of my entries from the HiBlog quoted, with a description of something like "A software programmer for the team" or something like that.
Tesheiner
Very nice words (as usual biggrin.gif ), Stu!
Congratulations.
SteveM
QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Dec 28 2006, 01:30 PM) *
A couple of interesting MER-related stories (1, 2) on Space.com today, although it seems to me that many of the details in the first story we learned from Doug's November 6, 2006, interview with Squyres.
Thanks Alex.

The one possibly significant new bit was the result from Mini-TES:
QUOTE
Opportunity’s Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) has revealed that this material [in Victoria Crater] is sulfate-rich all the way down, Squyres said. Mini-TES characterizes the martian terrain by using thermal infrared spectroscopy.

“So the picture we got back at Endurance, with a sulfate-rich dune field and lots of acidic groundwater, seems to apply here as well…several kilometers to the south,” Squyres added. “This was a big, long-lived dune field and there was lots of water here.”
Was it an ambiguous comment on Steve S's part, or does "sulfate-rich all the way down" mean that there no trace of the hematite rich blueberry bathtub ring?

Steve
Stu
Wow... Just gone online after getting up and found half a dozen lovely emails from people who read my Space.com piece, telling me how much the rovers, and their epic treks, mean to them too... Quite moving actually; sometimes it's easy to think that only us here at UMSF - or other such sites and online meeting places - "get it" about how amazing Spirit and Opportunity are, and only we "get it" about how beautiful their pictures are... but Out There, in the wide world, there must be literally millions of people who don't have online presences like us, who don't sign up for forums like this, who go through life day by day without sitting at monitors for hours drooling over hot-off-the-press pictures of Gusev or Meridiani, but are following the missions in their own way, and are just as moved as we are by each new landscape.

We're part of something bigger now, I think. Spirit and Opportunity have entered our culture, and not just the scientific culture either. People are proud of them, excited by them, even afraid for them, dreading the day they die and this incredible adventure ends. When there are men and women and children on Mars, I have no doubt whatsoever that they will reverently re-trace the routes of Spirit's and Opportunity's treks like terrestrial tourists and historians follow the Oregon Trail today, stopping along the way to have their pictures taken at the outcrops, Ratted rocks and viewpoints we're seeing on our monitors today. I wish I could be one of them, but hey, we got to see these places first, and the martians will be envious of us for being the ones who walked with Spirit and Oppy all those years ago...

Keep going guys, keep going... smile.gif
MarsIsImportant
Stu, a lot of people may simply follow the story in bits and pieces. Some may lurk around various sites without joining.

I didn't join this site until very recently. Yet, I've been watching this forum for almost 2 years, maybe only a year and a half. I wonder how many more people are still out there just watching. The new entry pool was the final trigger that got me to join. I had passed on the pool for reaching Victoria, the whole debate about the Beacon, and the debate concerning the next mission target after Victoria--but not this one, not with MRO online.

Many of you guys (and gals) are very intelligent and I didn't feel the need to contribute much to the discussion beyond what was already being said. If I had an original idea, usually one of you would pick up on it on your own within a few days anyway. Many times you guys were 'well ahead of the curve'. So, I didn't feel a strong desire to join until after Oppy reached Victoria and MRO started bringing us those fabulous images (I was so excited!!!). There was just no way that I was going to be left out of the active discussion concerning the new MRO images, especially with the rovers still being relatively healthy.

By the way...that was an awesome interview that Doug had with Steve! Mega Kudos.
Stu
QUOTE (MarsIsImportant @ Dec 29 2006, 08:05 AM) *
Many of you guys (and gals) are very intelligent and I didn't feel the need to contribute much to the discussion beyond what was already being said. If I had an original idea, usually one of you would pick up on it on your own within a few days anyway.


Hey, Mars... if you have an idea, or an opinion, don't wait, shout up! I'm sure Doug - and everyone else here - would agree that everyone here has the right to stick their hand up and contribute to any discussion going, that's what makes this place so great, no-one's sneered at or laughed at. If your idea is wrong, someone will politely tell you, and why, and point you in the right direction. If you're right, or spot something new, then you'll trigger a feeding frenzy and receive claps on the back, that's how it works smile.gif
CosmicRocker
I've been partially out of touch recently, with the New Year festivities and a trip to San Antonio. I almost missed this! ohmy.gif Thanks again, Alex. I was hoping to simply "catch up" with the news, but those two articles totally ruined my plans for the night.

Stu: That was an unbelievably excellent piece. You managed to capture the feelings of so many of us in so many ways, and in so few words. I'm stunned. Congratulations. smile.gif

The David Leonard piece was an enlightening summary for me. Yes, some of it was stuff we had heard previously, but I thought there were many clues to the Mars team's evolving perceptions of what they are seeing through the "eyes" of the rovers and orbiters, now that they have this synergy thing going on.

These are some of his quotes that I thought were notable (taken completely out of context):
QUOTE
Opportunity’s Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) has revealed that this material is sulfate-rich all the way down, Squyres said.

We are also in the process of building up images for a fabulous stereo model of the crater,” Farrand told SPACE.com.

On the other side of Mars at Gusev Crater scientists are preparing to steer the Spirit Mars rover back to a region called “Home Plate”—a still baffling formation near the Columbia Hills.

“The recent HiRISE image of the Spirit site has shown us that there are many more scientifically interesting targets around Home Plate than we realized. Some of these features are difficult to spot from ground level,” Squyres pointed out.

Another goal of the traverse around the margin will be to see if there are any indicators of Home Plate’s geologic origin - be it volcanic or just a product of wind action.

“Although it is clear that the materials that make up the outcrops are volcanic, it is not clear whether the deposition was volcanic in origin—air fall or ballistic—or whether it was just blown into a low spot by normal wind processes,” Crumpler explained.

“These are very high priority targets in my opinion,” Rice told SPACE.com. “Von Braun looks like some of the classic layered buttes and mesas one would see here in Arizona. Goddard could be either an impact crater or volcanic vent. The only way to know is to go.”

I left out the "Promised Land" part, only because it seems like such a distant target, but darn, even in the HiRise imagery that stuff's origin is enigmatic.

...and yeah, he said "all the way down."
ustrax
Hey!
I just read the article now... blink.gif
That's OUR Stu! smile.gif
Great piece of writing!
Stu
Thanks ustrax! smile.gif

Couple of UMSFers name-checked here too...
CosmicRocker
I just want to sneak in and apologize for mixing up the order of Leonard David's names in my recent comment here. Sheesh, I wonder how many times I've made that mistake. ohmy.gif
ustrax
One more from Space.com
MarkL
Great articles, thanks; but aren't these the type of capabilities (go and touch; watch) that should have been developed and tested on Earth? It must add months to the certification process to have to test new capabilities remotely over such an enormous distance. Even with testbeds here, you can't afford to risk the landed vehicles so have to proceed deliberately and carefully step by painful step. I guess the question is, with all the research into robotics that has gone on over the past two decades, why could the rovers not have had these abilities (and more) before they departed our fair planet?

Maybe that's a bit judgmental, however we've been able to get so much science and fun out of these two rovers I wonder how much better a job could have been done if truly visionary robotics had been integrated into the development of the rovers. The engineering and scientific accomplishments are incredible of course, but the pure robotics element seems to lag far behind. Much as I love the two little critters, they started life as pretty dumb, although capable machines, almost totally dependent on their operators for every move they make.

Perhaps now with the advent of 80-core CPU's we can make them a bit smarter in future, but what's really needed is an Einstein-like roboticist to bring the elements together. Putting this in perspective, had NASA been able to plop a human on Mars, that lucky person would have accomplished in one week all that the rovers have in three years (at one site of course, not both). She'd have walked the 10K to Victoria from Eagle in her first half day.
paxdan
"better is the enemy of good enough"
djellison
QUOTE (MarkL @ Feb 14 2007, 01:31 PM) *
I guess the question is, with all the research into robotics that has gone on over the past two decades, why could the rovers not have had these abilities (and more) before they departed our fair planet?


Time.

What you're really saying is - wouldn't it be nice if the rovers were better. Yes - it would be. But because of all of the contraints - power, volume, processing power, memory, time, money...they did the best they could in the time available. Did you know that the onboard software for surface ops wasn't ready until after launch? It is so very very easy to sit looking at an article about upgraded software and say "why didn't they do this 3 years ago" without having an appreciation for the genuine difficulty involved. Frankly it is a miracle that they got two working vehicles on the ground, let alone two vehicles that exceeded their requirements for a primary mission and an extended mission for 10x that duration thereafter.

An analogy. Why didn't they design the 80486 to be as good as a Core 2 Quadro? Because it takes time.


Doug
MahFL
Walk 10 Km in a Space Suit ? I don't think so, plus you'd have to walk back the 10 Km to the landing site, to the safety of your lander.
MahFL
I was in Kendal last summer, I introduced my Americal wife to Mint Cake, she loves it.
mhoward
Just repeating some things I've learned on this board or on the JPL site: 1) Space hardware has to be strong enough to withstand radiation, so you're not going to be able to use top-of-the-line processors like you can down here. 2) These rovers have another key requirement that you don't have on Earth: they have to be completely, 100% reliable, or at least 100% recoverable. There is no one around for millions of miles to give the things a kick when the advanced hardware/software has a hiccup. And I might add, 3) the hardware/software testing cycle appears to be as, er, challenging in the the aerospace industry as it is in more mundane sectors of industry (think Spirit Sol 19 wink.gif ) ... and the more complex the system, the more likely it is to have unexpected issues (IMHO).

Of course, the next generation of rover(s) will be better (maybe!). If we sent more of these things up there - in other words, if we had more opportunities to use the hardware under actual conditions - I'm sure the rate of evolution would be faster. But this generation of rovers is already a huge leap over what came before.
MarkL
No doubt lack of time is a giant issue, as is available certified hardware but perhaps there needs to be a source of inspiration as well. Maybe the focus should shift from the now mundane skills of building, launching and landing interplanetary craft with needle-threading precision toward building robots that can do far more on their own. It's just a software problem -- nothing a few late nights and red bulls wouldn't get sorted if the right brain was on the job. Robotics have been such a central part of scientific and popular culture for decades that it is difficult to understand why the robots we send out as emissaries more closely resemble remote-control cars than independently functioning scientific platforms. Paxdan, I know what you're getting at, but consider that two Roman Consular Armies once headed for Cannae feeling they were certainly good enough, but Hannibal was better.
helvick
QUOTE
It's just a software problem -- nothing a few late nights and red bulls wouldn't get sorted if the right brain was on the job.

I sincerely hope you are not being totally serious. There is no way - as in zero chance - that anyone is going to hand over autonomous control of a billion dollar robotic mission to some code that was hacked together over a (metaphorical) weekend by some geniuses stoked up on late night caffeine.

Ask yourself if you would be happy with using that model for writing software that you were going to allow to take over driving your car. I know I wouldn't and I wouldn't put $600mil worth of rover at risk that way either.

For me, this model of incrementally layering in additional capabilities as the mission lives on is a far better approach as the team have hands on Mission experience that tells them what capabilities are actually needed now and design, development and testing resources can be more efficiently allocated as a result.
MarkL
What I mean is that software advances require a good dose of inspiration and yes, that often visits a struggling programmer at 4AM while bleary eyed, head-in-hands and stoked on caffeine. I'm not saying breakthroughs in software should not then be battle tested before flying though.

Taking a dispassionate look at the technical accomplishments of the MER engineers and scientists, you can't help but be awe-struck. For three years, and through severe thermal cycling each sol, without a single pit stop, both rovers have:

Maintained outstanding mobility (even allowing for Spirit's gimpy foot)
Flawlessly managed their power and communications subsystems
Maintained a virtually complete, functioning set of instruments
Made over a hundred thousand scientific observations
Never forgotten to "phone home"

However optimistic the mission managers secretly were about these platforms, this must go way beyond their wildest expectations. All to the good. But largely the result of outstanding hardware design and testing. The software is utilitarian and does what it has to (and perhaps runs at the limit of the RAD6000, whose descendants are found in: Click to view attachment's). We need better.
djellison
QUOTE (MarkL @ Feb 15 2007, 02:49 PM) *
The software is utilitarian and does what it has to


You're clearly not going to moved on the issue - but I strongly object to that statement. If it did what it HAD to - then it would have none of the recent upgrades. If it did what it HAD to - it would have uninstalled itself and shut the vehicles down at sunrise on Sol 91 smile.gif

Doug
MarkL
You're right. The software has worked very very well for the most part and is more than merely utilitarian. That was a slight understatement. It just needs to be better, I think. And they are getting there. Slowly.
gpurcell
Only in retrospect can we know that some of these additional capabilities were necessary. Given the limited time and resources for the mission, the software team could either:

1) Focus their efforts on essential operational capability and fault detection/recovery or;
2) Decide that those things were "good enough" and start adding bells and whistles that might (or might not) be required.

It is my firm contention that the ONLY way they could go beyond Option One is to do what they did: work out their systems on the group for real. During this time they also developed a list of the "nice to haves" that are really needed, rather than "nice to haves" fueled by a couple of nights of Red Bull.

In high risk, difficult situations, incrementalism is almost always the best approach to having the largest probability of success.
ustrax
Very interesting article by Steve Squyres.
Tesheiner
When Will NASA's Mars Rovers Fade? Not Tonight.

Nice article, Stu. smile.gif
Stu
Thanks smile.gif

I know a lot of people here on UMSF feel the same way, so I kinda wrote it on everyone's behalf.
Jim from NSF.com
QUOTE (MarkL @ Feb 15 2007, 02:45 PM) *
You're right. The software has worked very very well for the most part and is more than merely utilitarian. That was a slight understatement. It just needs to be better, I think. And they are getting there. Slowly.


Better? No need. not until we have the ability for equivalent autonomous vehicles on earth.
Gray
Great article, Stu.

You have a wonderful way with words. Here are two of my favorite lines,

"...white bunny-suited techs..." ( I just pictured them all with rabbit ears on their suits smile.gif )

"... by now pale-skinned and square-eyed after countless hours spent locked indoors staring at flickering monitor ..."

(Now that you mention it, my eyes have been feeling a bit quadrilateral lately.)


Thanks for adding some smiles to my day.

And may Spirit and Oppportunity live long and prosper. (I can only borrow words.)

-gray
Stu
Thanks Gray. There should be a couple more pieces of mine on adAstra before too long. I can't create images like the experts here, words have to do for me! smile.gif

"Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her home." - Capt. Mal Reynolds.
AlexBlackwell
QUOTE (Gray @ Jun 7 2007, 06:58 AM) *
"...white bunny-suited techs..." ( I just pictured them all with rabbit ears on their suits smile.gif )

I had a slightly different image in mind cool.gif
CosmicRocker
Very nice, Stu. I just came across the new piece independently, via Google news search. It brought a smile to my face as your words elicited familiar emotions. Thanks. smile.gif
Pavel
Too bad the link to UMSF is incorrect and leads to some boring and unrelated spaceflight.com instead. On the other hand, one of the high-moderated comments on Slashdot mentions UMSF too, and gets the link right.
As one could expect, a hole in the Arsia Mons evokes some pretty sick thoughts among the hardcore nerds.
Stu
QUOTE (Pavel @ Jun 7 2007, 09:02 PM) *
Too bad the link to UMSF is incorrect and leads to some boring and unrelated spaceflight.com instead.


Yeah, well, that's nowt to do with me, the links are all put in by the editors. I've asked for a correction.
Phillip
Thanks for the article Stu and well done indeed. I read more than I talk on this forum, but that does not mean I am not a total nut about our beloved Spirit and Oppy. Your words expressed my sentiments spot on. I have emailed your article to several friends who don't "get it" so they can appreciate what I am going through on that horrible day. Till then, I whistle merrily as our rovers trundle on.

Can't wait for the descent into Victoria and more Home plate!!

Phillip
nprev
QUOTE (Jim from NSF.com @ Jun 7 2007, 09:57 AM) *
Better? No need. not until we have the ability for equivalent autonomous vehicles on earth.


Actually, there may well be such an ability under development, Jim. Hopefully, some of this research can be applied most effectively--and almost directly-- to the next generation of rovers after MSL.
helvick
Stu,

Seems like there are Browcoats everywhere these days.

smile.gif
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