back to article Da rude sand storm seizes the Opportunity, threatens to KO rover

Time may be up for America's plucky Opportunity rover that has trundled across the surface of Mars for more than 14 years. During a press conference on Wednesday, NASA officials said that the robot had been caught in a massive dust storm encircling a quarter of the planet, and this had blocked the probe's solar cells from …

A place in history

for the engineers who built Opportunity beside icons like I.K. Brunel in our pantheon of great engineers.

How the world has changed.

THEN a bunch of clever boffins could craft an explorer with failover and backup and flexibility (not to mention it actually worked on deployment!).

NOW there are 'business processes' involving scrutinising of engineering ideas by accountants and 'program managers' that suck up money yet (even when consultants opine in reports) fail to sparkle or fail completely.

Let us hope that the time will come when the spirit of opportunity will be once again cherished and understood by everyone.

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Re: A place in history

KUDOS to the engineers who have made this rover last so long on a planet so far away!

Hard to beat this engineering! From what I understand they use RAD-hardened IBM RS/6000 32-bit cpus running at 25 MHz! My WATCH has 50x the CPU horsepower of these rovers so to be able to make these Mars rovers actually WORK, took some SERIOUS engineering prowess!

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P.S.

The sheer cheekiness of your headlines...how many late millennials and Gen Y/Z'es would even GET the Darude Sandstorm techno song reference? Watch the original Darude Sandstorm video! It is AWESOMELY WELL DONE!

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Re: A place in history

Wish I could upvote this more than once. You've nailed the problem with the entire US space program. On second thought, it's not just the space program but just about every facet of life today.

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Alien

Re: A place in history

"It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract." Alan Shepherd

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Re: A place in history

My WATCH has 50x the CPU horsepower of these rovers so to be able to make these Mars rovers actually WORK, took some SERIOUS engineering prowess!

Not especially. They just didn't fill them with shite. Unlike your watch.

Ah, the things we used to do with 25MHz, when I was a lad... I'm off to stew carrots or whatever old people do these days. Probably go on lots of holidays.

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Re: A place in history

Although to be fair, the slower, larger scale transistor based chips are more resilient to radiation damaging/corrupting processes.

Agree though, thumbs up to some proper engineering!

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Re: A place in history

"...Wish I could upvote this more than once. You've nailed the problem with the entire US space program. On second thought, it's not just the space program but just about every facet of life today..."

Not just the space programme, as you say. Not sure what happened but the general populous went from revering scientists and engineers to footballers, pop "stars" and people who apparently are famous for just being in the public eye.

And, as a kid, if you have an interest in things like science and maths, you're a weirdo and a geek.

Sad.

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Re: A place in history

>> Not especially. They just didn't fill them with shite. Unlike your watch.

Amen to that! My first PC was a 386 20MHz system with 4MB of RAM. It could run Windows 3.1, Word for Windows, Excel, play various games, handle programming in Turbo C, etc.

We've become spoiled by fast CPUs these days. Fact is, you can achieve a surprising amount with older/slower tech if you are efficient with your code.

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Re: A place in history

Spirit & Opportunity weren't launched in the 1960s, but 2004: attitudes were not that different whn they were designed & launched to what they are now, apart, perhaps, from some of the really weird extreme political shit.

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Re: A place in history

"My first PC was a 386 20MHz system with 4MB of RAM. It could run Windows 3.1, Word for Windows, Excel, play various games, handle programming in Turbo C, etc."

"Fact is, you can achieve a surprising amount with older/slower tech if you are efficient with your code."

It's not often that you see Windows in the same post as Efficient with Code

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Re: A place in history

My first computer ran at 2MHz

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Boffin

Re: A place in history

Not everything is computers. The whole wheels, solar panels, drills, science experiments, being designed to work in a fairly hostile environment thing may count for a little more than the processor. Also being strapped to the top of a fucking great rocket (also largely not made of computers) and sent to Mars helps.

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Re: A place in history

Pah, 25MHz, 20MHz, 2MHz - you youngsters today don't know you're born.

I raise you 1MHz and just 1kbyte (yes k, not M or G) of static RAM.

Obligatory Monty Python sketch :-)

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Re: A place in history

My first personal computer was a Heathkit H89 with a 2MHz Z80 CPU and about 48K of RAM. And I did plenty of useful work on it, in addition to learning a lot.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A place in history

Amen to the oldie tech.

Like replacing W10 with Linux Mint and using a 10 year old USB flatbed Canon scanner again.

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Re: A place in history

NOW there are 'business processes' involving scrutinising of engineering ideas by accountants and 'program managers' that suck up money yet (even when consultants opine in reports) fail to sparkle or fail completely.

With all due respect, and noting that I've got feet on either side of the fence (ouch), if you leave many engineers to their own devices you don't get good, efficient outcomes. Often, having oversight and input from intelligent inexperts is very valuable. Both in calling out shit ideas that the engineers are too close to to realise, or in constraining the ambition to what can be afforded. Back in the good old days, it was often the case that the overall concept could be conceived and managed by a good engineer, unaided. As schemes have become more complex its often the case that you need a multi-skilled team - like it or not.

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@Led

"As schemes have become more complex its often the case that you need a multi-skilled team - like it or not."

Or better engineers.

People like Einstein and Hawkings came up with the most brilliant of theories and statements and they mostly did all of that on their own.

Now, I'm not necessarily disagreeing. Heck, this even follows the Unix philosophy: perform a small task and do that to the best of your abilities. And this approach works excellent. But the reason why I still comment is because this "multi skilled" approach is often taken into ridiculous directions these days.

More than often the skill set isn't the most important anymore, it's how you present it. Who cares if one person shows you plain out facts. When he does so in a boring way then he's most likely to get surpassed by someone else who is better at presenting himself. Just too bad that he got all of his facts mixed up...

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Re: A place in history

Oh come on, let's at least be reasonably modern and up-to-date here, and speak of *real* computers: my first home 'pc'* had a 1.4uS cycle time, (clock in the upper KHz ranges) and we spoke of *words*, not 'bytes'. Okay it was 16 KILOwords but at least it wasn't based on any of these transistor-type things, and it kept its data even when the power failed - without one of those funny coin-shaped batteries. Well, as long as you didn't head-butt it or drop it on the floor, so I suppose it might not have survived a typical launch...

* PDP-8/e with 16K 12-bit words core memory, TTY interface, mag tape i/face + magtape drive, 512-head drum memory, home-brewed executive and OS on top + various home-written programs (no games!) to go with that! Oh yeah, later on a VDU to replace the Teletype!

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Upvote Tor The Headline Writer

Fantastic feat of engineering & hopefully not the end of the road.

Brilliant instrumental (I remember hitting the near empty road going back to Devon from Oxfordshire & that playing on the radio, during the petrol strike) - Video not so much alas (I prefer Vienna).

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Re: Upvote Tor The Headline Writer

Yep, nothing we like more than to pick up an earworm from our first Reg check of the morning!

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Terminator

Welcome rover overlord

Obligatory XKCD refference

https://xkcd.com/1504/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Welcome rover overlord

But how lonely must it feel?

https://xkcd.com/695/

Almost brings tears to my eyes...

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Re: Spirit

Only almost?

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Boffin

centigrade

Celsius these days, surely?

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Coat

Re: centigrade

My mate Kelvin says no...

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Re: centigrade

Count yourself lucky, it could have been in Fahrenheit.

I would have thought Mars being so dry that caking would be unlikely, unless Mars dust has some odd properties.

Shirley the rover is more likely to be sand blasted and very shiny after the storm?

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Re: centigrade

Triboelectric charging/electrostatic forces cause dust to cling together and "cake".

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Pint

Re: centigrade

That's Lord Kelvin to you...

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Re: centigrade

I prefer "Degrees Censible" when comparing it to Degrees Freedom.

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God speed little robot

Here's hoping for a good blast of wind to blow the dust off your solar panels.

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Paris Hilton

Re: God speed little robot

I always wondered why they didn't fit these rovers with a self-cleaning system? a windscreen wiper or some kind of air duster would surely be doable?

I get that for the official design lifespan of 90 days the dust is not an issue, but does anyone buy that 90 days was the actual lifespan or just a super low estimate that they knew they could deliver?

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Re: God speed little robot

It was that last one. 90 days was a known lowball. But NOBODY was expecting this plucky little rover to last as long as it has up till now.

As for cleaning systems, they add weight, are complex, liable to break and add little to the mission profile. Getting rid of dust is a tricky issue. Just brushing it off could end up making your panels dirtier instead of cleaner. (I suspect the weigt penalty alone is enough reason to abandon such a aystem though)

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Re: God speed little robot

Failing that, I assume the solar panels can adjust to get maximum light, so why couldn't they have been designed to clamshell shut, turn upside down, or vibrate slightly?

( Anyone else suddenly thinking of a rover doing jazz-hands with its panels? )

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Re: God speed little robot

I always wondered why they didn't fit these rovers with a self-cleaning system? a windscreen wiper or some kind of air duster would surely be doable?

Weight, cost, complexity.

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Re: God speed little robot

Apart from the weight / complexity thing, imagine what happens if, while the panels are shut / upside down, something goes wrong.

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"I wish my mobile phone had [a battery] that was as good"

Well NASA, why don't you do us all a favour and release the specs?

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LOL... love the music reference

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