Audit: Mars mission faces hurdles before launch

Jun 08, 2011 By ALICIA CHANG , AP Science Writer
In this undated artist rendition released by NASA/JPL-Caltech showing NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a new report says significant challenges remain before NASA can launch its next rover to Mars later this year. The report by the space agency's inspector general released Wednesday June 8,2011, found that although mission managers have worked through problems that caused the two-year launch delay, hurdles remain. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech )

(AP) -- NASA's next-generation rover to the surface of Mars, which is already overbudget and behind schedule, faces significant hurdles as it races to the launch pad for a November liftoff, an internal audit released Wednesday found.

The space agency insisted the remaining work to be done will not result in yet another launch slip.

"At this point in time, we are fully on schedule," said Dave Lavery, the project's program executive at headquarters.

The mobile Mars Science Laboratory is intended to be the most sophisticated rover sent to the Martian surface. From the outset, the mission managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been plagued by development woes that have put it behind schedule and driven up costs. The total cost of the mission has ballooned to $2.5 billion from $1.6 billion.

NASA's inspector general faulted project managers for routinely underestimating costs and calculated that an extra $44 million to the development budget may be needed to avoid another delay or cancellation.

The latest price tag "may be insufficient to ensure timely completion of the project in light of the historical pattern of cost increases and the amount of work that remains to be completed," the report said.

The size of a Mini Cooper and nicknamed Curiosity, the rover is a souped-up version of the golf cart-size twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Essentially a on wheels, Curiosity carries a suite of tools to analyze and soil to determine whether environmental conditions were ever favorable to support primitive life.

Curiosity was supposed to fly in 2009, but problems during construction forced NASA to push back launch by two years to 2011 when the orbits of Mars and Earth are again closely aligned.

Engineers had to redesign the after it failed safety tests. There were delays in shipping instruments to NASA. It took longer than expected to build and test the gear boxes that enable the mega-rover to drive and flick its robotic wrist.

Auditors found 1,200 reports of problems and failures that have not been resolved as of February. Since then, only about 1,000 issues remained. Though the number was a bit on the high side, it was not out of the character for such a complicated mission, Lavery said.

While engineers have fixed most of the problems that delayed the launch, some key issues lingered, including potential contamination of rock and soil samples by the spacecraft's robotic arm. NASA has since found a solution to minimize contamination, but auditors said they remained concerned that the fix would not be completed in time for Curiosity's departure later this month from California to Florida to be prepped for launch.

Another launch delay would increase costs by at least another $570 million, the report said.

NASA has maintained that Curiosity is no cookie-cutter rover and that unforeseen problems are to be expected when building such a complex machine.

Unlike the previous Mars rovers that bounced to a landing cocooned in air bags, the nuclear-powered Curiosity will use a precision landing system to gently lower itself to the surface - a tough engineering feat. Curiosity's landing site has yet to be chosen from among four finalists.

One thing Curiosity won't be able to do is take pretty pictures of its surroundings with a high-resolution 3-D camera. NASA recently nixed the camera that "Avatar" director James Cameron was helping to design because there wasn't enough time to test it before launch.

Instead, the rover's "eyes" will be digital color cameras that are three times more powerful than those aboard previous spacecraft.

Planetary scientist Ronald Greeley of Arizona State University, who chairs a group that advises NASA, said he was encouraged that the space agency was taking the concerns seriously and remained cautiously optimistic that Curiosity will launch this year.

"Everything that is reasonable is being done," he said. "That doesn't mean bad things can't happen."

Explore further: Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

More information: Curiosity mission: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/msl/index.html

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ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
Jun 08, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Ober
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 08, 2011
You've got to be bloody joking right???
Base on Mars??? You believe this because of a white streak and blurred pixels from a highly compressed JPEG image????

Hey, a retired A-51 scientist who worked on greys and UFO propulsion has got me a spare ticket on the next TOP SECRET UFO flight to mars. I can let you have the ticket for 1 million U.S. dollars. Now I can't mention his name for fear of the C.I.A., but lets just call him Bob.
If you want the ticket, then let me know quick, as my life is already in danger, just for posting this info!!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2011
Would that have to be in earth dollars?

The aforementioned base is most likely a blip from a cosmic ray according to experts. That does not mean there haven't been secret manned missions to elsewhere though. Once it was realized just how much the human race was in danger from impact events, it may have been necessary to do something proactive. And we had the tech and the opportunity to do this- from behind the iron curtain.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (4) Jun 08, 2011
Sarah Palin has already called for the mission's cancellation adding that the money saved should be going to converting the Godless Muslins to Christianity or liquidate them if they refuse.

She added that she was wrong and can't see Russia from her house, mostly because she has vacated the State of Alaska, but that she has seen the ghost of Paul Revere manifest from a magnificent glowing golden orb that rose from her toilet last thursday.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (6) Jun 09, 2011
That is one expensive project. Hopefully, with this, they will find at least a signature of life or present day water on Mars.

But, if you think about it, all the money they've spent on rovers, they could have sent a manned mission to Mars by now and probably accomplished a hell of a lot more. I'm not criticizing their work, because I know what they're doing is fairly complex, but it just seems that they're sending more and more missions to the red planet to accomplish exactly the same thing.
Bonkers
5 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2011
Sod it, why don't we settle the thing once and for all, and drop a load of bacteria and stuff on there. There's life there, well there is now...
Oh hang on, I think we did that, the recent Mars missions were calculated to have several billion(?) bacteria etc. on them, even after stringent clean-room assembly and subsequent sterilisation.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2011
Thanks for the 1 vote, Deesky. You troll tard. If you're going to give me a 1 vote for everything, then I'd like to hear your thoughts or opinions once in a while. Oh wait, you don't have any. What's the matter? Did I touch a nerve?
dan42day
not rated yet Jun 09, 2011
Sarah Palin has already called for the mission's cancellation adding that the money saved should be going to converting the Godless Muslins to Christianity or liquidate them if they refuse.


Just tell her that it will be equipped with a remote control AR-10 rifle and she will be able to shoot martian wolves with it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2011
Just tell her that it will be equipped with a remote control AR-10 rifle and she will be able to shoot martian wolves with it.
A nudelmann cannon might be a better choice as it has been tested in such adverse conditions.
http://almaz.co.t...Salyut_3

-And there is no telling how big Martian varmints could be. John Carter said they had 6 legs.
http://home.comca...rter.htm
El_Nose
4.8 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2011
@ Sinister

i gave you a one as well, mainly for not understanding why there have been no manned missions to Mars and why everyone understands why there won;t be one for a long time...

1) it takes a lot of resources to keep some humans alive for the trip to Mars as that will take at least 18 months there and back again - like how to recycle oxygen or water- there will be no suicide one way trip planned for a depressed astronaut

2) fuel -- takes a LOT of fuel to get to Mars and back -- it takes even more fuel to push that extra fuel to Mars

3) how do you get back off the ground -- it is a planet -- it's not the Moon -- its got gravity that you have to get passed to make it off the planet -- once again mo suicide trips

4) these are only the easy beginning issues this trip would face ... if we spent 50-200 Billion on toys it would still be cheaper to send a robot than a human team to Mars
Sinister1811
1.2 / 5 (5) Jun 09, 2011
@ Sinister

i gave you a one as well, mainly for not understanding why there have been no manned missions to Mars and why everyone understands why there won;t be one for a long time...


Thank you. At least you bothered to explain. But try not to make me sound like such an idiot next time.

1) it takes a lot of resources to keep some humans alive for the trip to Mars as that will take at least 18 months there and back again - like how to recycle oxygen or water- there will be no suicide one way trip planned for a depressed astronaut


Point noted.

2) fuel -- takes a LOT of fuel to get to Mars and back -- it takes even more fuel to push that extra fuel to Mars


There's still the cost of fuel to send rovers to Mars. It may not be as much. But I still think we probably have the fuel required.
Sinister1811
1.5 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2011
3) how do you get back off the ground -- it is a planet -- it's not the Moon -- its got gravity that you have to get passed to make it off the planet -- once again mo suicide trips


The same way you'd get off the ground on Earth. It should be easier on Mars, due to less gravity. And the moon does have some gravity as well.

4) these are only the easy beginning issues this trip would face ... if we spent 50-200 Billion on toys it would still be cheaper to send a robot than a human team to Mars


I understand now, thanks. And you're right -- supporting Humans on Mars would cost a lot more resources. I should have thought of that before I brought it up. But is there a need to send so many robots?
El_Nose
5 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2011
@sinister

sorry about the ... tone .. of the previous post

but why send robots and so many -- well its cheap to get them into orbit -- and the excess fuel to sling shot them with the moon's gravity well helps a little if we want them there fast and if they aren't delicate

But the real reason to send many many more - is that what we learned from the previous missions and what mistakes were made --- like the heating of martian soil might make it acidic enough to destroy any organic molecules you were trying to detect -- didn't know that until we tested soil and saw signatures of a chemical that would dissolve any organic we would have been looking for

-- the fact the last one got stuck in the sand -- that ain't gonna happen again - especially since it seems what was built to last 3 months can make it 4 years skip solar powered were sending nuclear this time - hey it worked for voyager... got to love Engineering at NASA - dem boys are good, once they actually complete the project :-D
scidog
not rated yet Jun 12, 2011
for a good read on NASA and cost over runs and the results i would suggest reading "murder on pad 34". a pot boiler by Erik Bergaust written in 1968 it's a run down on the Apollo fire that killed Grissom,Chaffee and White.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2011
I still think that if there were life on Mars, there would be at least some obvious physical trace of it. What I've often thought is that if there are micro-organisms on Mars, why those micro-organisms wouldn't have eventually evolved into multi-cellular organisms, like on Earth and colonized the entire planet. Why would they be confined to the soil on Mars, wouldn't that be against the laws of evolution, by natural selection?
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2011
What we know about life on Earth is that it has colonized every niche, crack and grain of sand. I wish I could say the same were true for Mars, but it still seems as though they're wasting resources exploring a dead landscape.
El_Nose
not rated yet Jun 13, 2011
but since life came about on Earth the major stimulus to life has not changed -- life on this planet mostly needs O and water -- and that is in aboundance and has not change

But Mars has -- Mars is drastically different today than it was say 500M years ago according to xeno-geologists -- there may have been water on the planet in liquid form and clouds -- but this has been stripped away. So we are looking for fossils on a dead world... for signs of life in a graveyard... if all humans died today could you find traces of our existance even a few million years later - probably not but you might be able to find say e. coli

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