back to article Done and dusted? Vast storm gobbles NASA's long-lived Mars robot

As NASA's Opportunity rover nears its 15th birthday, engineers are worried the plucky little robot may not survive a worsening Martian dust storm. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted the approaching storm on 1 June, giving the Opportunity team notice to kick off their contingency plans. The storm now covers more than …

  1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Okay, I admit it. That XKCD always brings a little tear to my eye.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      If you don't anthropomorphise your systems, it's because you don't care about them enough.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        As someone who cried as a girl to the ending of Silent Running, I am proud to anthropomorphise those plucky little rovers.

        Paris - because she would completely get what I'm on about.

        1. fedoraman

          So

          I can finally let it out ... I cried too!

        2. Champ

          >As someone who cried as a girl to the ending of Silent Running...

          C'mon, who doesn't cry at the end of Silent Running?

          And if you don't, I don't think we can be friends

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Wasn't one of the three droids affected by a storm in Silent Running? I recall another finding the still attached foot. (:(+(

    2. Chozo
      Go

      Bring It Home

      I for one believe the little rover should be brought home to a 'ticker tape' parade and a cosy sandpit at the Smithsonian.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bring It Home

        If I should die, think only this of me:

        That there's some corner of a foreign field

        That is for ever Roverian. There shall be

        On that bare gravel a richer dust concealed;

        A dust whom NASA bore, shaped, made aware,

        Gave, once, her wheels to rove, radios to talk,

        A body of Earth's, now in Martian air,

        Unwashed by rivers, blast'd by arid red storms.

        .

        And think, this battery, all power shed away,

        No pulse in the eternal cpu, no less,

        Gave sometime back those things by Terra wanted;

        The sights and sounds; detail far and near;

        No laughter, learnt of friends; but the scanning eyes, computation,

        and wheels at peace; under an Martian heaven.

        1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

          Re: Bring It Home

          Actually very moving.

          I invest meaning to inanimate objects, because they provide meaning.

      2. Chris Parsons

        Re: Bring It Home

        Indeed so...and possibly made next president.

  2. ravenviz
    Thumb Up

    Opportunity has had a good innings and may well still yet survive.

    Many lessons learned during these missions will no doubt improve / extend expectations for future visits.

    +1 NASA

    1. Steve Evans

      I'm sure the only lesson learnt by the bean counters will be all about how the rover was over engineered and how you can cut corners, and save money, in future.

      They'll conveniently forget what happened when they cut corners on solid rocket boosters.

  3. Peter Mount
    Joke

    Opportunity already has her own XKCD

    https://xkcd.com/1504/

    1. Chewi
      Thumb Up

      Re: Opportunity already has her own XKCD

      That's one of my favourites!

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Opportunity already has her own XKCD

      What? Why did an XKCD link get downvoted?

      That's just weird.

  4. Daggerchild Silver badge
    Boffin

    Science!

    NASA must surely have planned for this eventuality. Somewhere amongst the rover's electronics they must have included an emergency potato.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Science!

      100 years later, Man lands on Mars.

      Sees skyscraper of mud blocks.

      Observes Opportunity grabbing random dirt and rocks, compressing it, neatly filing the block among the others.

      Until, that is, the day they release the shiny-new Mars rovers and Opportunity meets them...

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Science!

        Science always has problems with observers. So simple reason Opportunity's been going so long is that other scientists are observing this strange new machine life that's landed on their planet. Thus far, the observation's been pretty benign, so a stealthy dust and the odd nudge. And the observers have been able to study various iterations dating back to the first Mars landings, and gauge their creator's technological development. But they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water...

        I'm still determined that if I ever successfully crack wormhole travel, I'm going to plonk a 'Keep Off the Grass!' sign in front of Opportunity or Curiosity. I blame Peter F. Hamilton for planting that seed.

  5. Kaltern

    It'll be fine, it'll get to -39.999ºC and just at the point of disaster, a ray of sun will fall upon it's dust smeared panels, and a spark of energy will crackle along it's old, worn out circuits... bringing it back for another year of cold, desolate lonliness while trundling across an unforgiving, alien world. All in the name of science.

    Either that or Curiosity could trundle over and give it a jump start...

    1. annodomini2

      Curiosity is about 8200km away from Opportunity. Given it's taken Curiosity 6 yrs to travel ~9km, it would take ~546yrs to reach Opportunity.

      1. ravenviz

        Such short term thinking!

  6. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
    Pint

    in the immortal words of Leslie Nielsen

    "...good luck. We're all counting on you."

    And regardless how it turns out, thanks for all the science

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mission at end?

    Nah, its mission isn't ending, it's entering the dormant phase where is hibernates in order to be ready to act as an emergency communications relay station for stranded astronauts.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Mission at end?

      upvote for the Martian film reference

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Mission at end?

      Seriously, if I were the first Mars colonist, I'd hunt these things down and repurpose them.

      How about the first thing you see when you land on Mars being one of the rovers, being used as part of the major systems to monitor the airflow or temperature, or greet visitors?

      1. Tikimon Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Mission at end?

        "Seriously, if I were the first Mars colonist, I'd hunt these things down and repurpose them."

        And this is why the Pyramids, Colosseum, and so many other historical structures are RUINS. "Nobody's using that, let's dismantle it to scavenge the rocks!" Away, thoughtless jackal!

        If I were the first Mars colonist I wold reverently visit these priceless pieces of history and place markers listing their history and accomplishments. Also a sentry gun and a KEEP OFF THE ROVER sign.

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          Re: Mission at end?

          There's nothing stopping you doing that - build a huge glass jar over it, a bright light overhead to "power" it and then suck the data from its sensors that it's trying to radio home.

          Or a new command program sent to it to waves its little arms at visitors.

          Just because you want to use something, doesn't mean you need to destroy it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mission at end?

          Until your radio died and then you would be first in the queue with a pair of pliers.... :-)

        3. Grikath

          Re: Mission at end?

          "If I were the first Mars colonist I wold reverently visit these priceless pieces of history and place markers listing their history and accomplishments. Also a sentry gun and a KEEP OFF THE ROVER sign."

          We shall mark the spot where you perished with a small cairn, while repurposing your corpse and anything it is in, the rover, the plaque, and the sentry gun.

          Sentimentalism is nice for armchair philosophers. It is useless in a hostile, if not deadly environment, where every scrap of material has to be imported against a huge gravity well and a rather inconvenient time schedule.

          1. Cuddles Silver badge

            Re: Mission at end?

            "It is useless in a hostile, if not deadly environment, where every scrap of material has to be imported against a huge gravity well"

            The thing about planets is that there's already quite a lot of material already on them. Early explorers may need to take everything with them, but any kind of long term presence will have to figure out how to make use of the resources already there. Which means at no point is there any use in dismantling a rover or two - either you have everything with you and relying on salvage means you've already fucked up incredibly badly (The Martian was fiction, even the author happily admits that there would have been no hope of survival in reality), or you're using an entire planet's worth of resources and the stuff in a single rover is meaningless.

        4. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          I expect

          Elon's already got the trophy museum room designed.

      2. The Count
        Happy

        Re: Mission at end?

        In the immortal words of Walter.

        Welcome to the Mars Walmart. Get your shit and get out!

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Pint

    Here's hoping the plucky little explorer will stay hunkered down and after waiting it out, it will be able carry on. Just amazing it's lasted this long... a toast to the engineers who designed and built it.

  9. adnim Silver badge
    Joke

    Amazing

    15 years without crashing, perhaps Microsoft should have bought NASA instead of github

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Amazing

      Please - don't even say that in jest! <shudders>

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazing

      Is it running XP maybe?

    3. spodula

      Re: Amazing

      "Hello, i'm clippy.

      I see one of your solid rocket boosters has exploded.

      Do you want me to help you write a stern letter to the JPL?"

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, let's be accurate here

    It was designed by engineers to last 90 days. If it had been designed by bookkeepers it would at best have made it to day 50 and that would have been that.

    Now it has provided a LOT more science for the buck, and I join you all in hoping that it survives - yet again.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Well, let's be accurate here

      It was designed by engineers to last 90 days.

      I sincerely hope the engineers responsible were at least thanked. And preferably repeatedly, in liquid form.

      1. Javc

        Re: Well, let's be accurate here

        "I sincerely hope the engineers responsible were at least thanked."

        Before the landing of Spirit and Opportunity, JPL director Charles Elachi said if this landing works I'll give you guys whatever you want. Someone jokingly said, "free ice cream." After the landings, JPL management set up ice cream coolers in the hallways of rover operations, and for the first few months while we were all living on Mars time, they kept the coolers stocked with ice cream bars. So yes, that was a proper thanks.

      2. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: Well, let's be accurate here

        I imagine instead they were punch multiple times for causing budgeting problems because they built their rovers to well and they last just to damn long!

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Traffic Lights

    The problem is there are no traffic lights on Mars - if there were, they'd be plenty of Martian squeegee merchants to clean the solar panels

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dont worry guys......flatty mcflatface!

    Its still a prop in a hollywood studio somewhere. Im crying too, but mainly because we're paying for such meaningless pursuits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dont worry guys......flatty mcflatface!

      >>meaningless pursuits<<

      and many eons ago - "why are you wasting your time with these 'wheel' things?"

      Luddy McLuddite

      1. RareToy

        Re: Dont worry guys......flatty mcflatface!

        Just so you know... the CL4P-TP makes good use of it's single wheel design.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Dont worry guys......flatty mcflatface!

      ...mainly because we're paying for such meaningless pursuits.

      And you would spend the money on...?

      You do realise, I'm sure, that NASA's budget is miniscule, compared to what it's costing the US to play shoot-em-up in the Middle East? And that the Mars rovers are a tiny part of that miniscule budget?

      Yes, we'd all like to see less starvation, better education (arguably something NASA does quite well, when it's allowed to), equal rights for all and, of course, a cure for cancer. But the money spent to put those rovers up there is a pretty small sum, considering what we have learned from their being where they are.

  13. ForthIsNotDead

    It will survive.

    Trust me.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In related news

    Possibility of liquid water on Ross-128, and it may even have plate tectonics as the elemental distribution is similar to the Earth.

    It could be habitable but right at the edge of the inner HZ so possibly tidally locked.

    Not necessarily bad as the clouds on the "day" side might redistribute heat evenly.

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