Opportunity begins study of martian crater, new samples 'unlike any seen before'

Sep 02, 2011
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its front hazard-avoidance camera to take this picture showing the rover's arm extended toward a light-toned rock, "Tisdale 2," during the 2,695th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Aug. 23, 2011). Tisdale 2 is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- The initial work of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity at its new location on Mars shows surface compositional differences from anything the robot has studied in its first 7.5 years of exploration.

Opportunity arrived three weeks ago at the rim of a 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater named . The first rock it examined is flat-topped and about the size of a footstool. It was apparently excavated by an impact that dug a crater the size of a tennis court into the crater's rim. The rock was informally named "Tisdale 2."

"This is different from any rock ever seen on Mars," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for Opportunity at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "It has a composition similar to some , but there's much more zinc and than we've typically seen. We are getting confirmation that reaching Endeavour really has given us the equivalent of a second landing site for Opportunity."

The diversity of fragments in Tisdale 2 could be a prelude to other minerals Opportunity might find at Endeavour. In the past two weeks, researchers have used an instrument on the rover's to identify elements at several spots on Tisdale 2. Scientists have also examined the rock using the rover's microscopic imager and multiple filters of its .

Observations by Mars orbiters suggest that rock exposures on Endeavour's rim date from early in Martian history and include that form in less-acidic , possibly more favorable for life. Discontinuous ridges are all that remains of the ancient crater's rim. The ridge at the section of the rim where Opportunity arrived is named "Cape York." A gap between Cape York and the next rim fragment to the south is called "Botany Bay."

"On the final traverses to Cape York, we saw ragged outcrops at Botany Bay unlike anything Opportunity has seen so far, and a bench around the edge of Cape York looks like that's been cut and filled with veins of material possibly delivered by water," said Ray Arvidson, the rover's deputy principal investigator at Washington University in St. Louis. "We made an explicit decision to examine ancient rocks of Cape York first."

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take this picture showing a light-toned rock, "Tisdale 2," during the 2,690th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Aug. 18, 2011). The rock is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The science team selected Endeavour as Opportunity's long-term destination after the rover climbed out of Victoria crater three years ago this week. The mission spent two years studying Victoria, which is about one twenty-fifth as wide as Endeavour. Layers of bedrock exposed at Victoria and other locations Opportunity has visited share a sulfate-rich composition linked to an ancient era when acidic water was present. Opportunity drove about 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Victoria to reach Endeavour. It has driven 20.8 miles (33.5 kilometers) since landing on Mars.

"We have a very senior rover in good health for having already worked 30 times longer than planned," said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "However, at any time, we could lose a critical component on an essential rover system, and the mission would be over. Or, we might still be using this rover's capabilities beneficially for years. There are miles of exciting geology to explore at Endeavour crater."

Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit, completed three-month prime missions in April 2004 and continued working for years of extended missions. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit ended communications in March 2010.

"This is like having a brand new landing site for our veteran rover," said Dave Lavery, program executive for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It is a remarkable bonus that comes from being able to rove on Mars with well-built hardware that lasts."

NASA will launch its next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011. It will land on Mars in August 2012. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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User comments : 28

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Hengine
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 02, 2011
Is it unreasonable to request that they send up a swarm of bots in the next Mars launch? Considering the rarity of the launch window and the general expense of the rocket surely they can afford the weight of several smaller bots to go with Curiosity, landing in vastly different areas mind.
antialias_physorg
3.5 / 5 (8) Sep 02, 2011
Is it unreasonable to request that they send up a swarm of bots

Yes. That is very unreasonable.

Landing a bot (or anything else) from orbit isn't trivial (at least if you want to have anything left that is more than a chunk of burnt up, warped metal). This takes a lot of packaging per landing (read: weight). So a swarm of bots is out of the question.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (19) Sep 02, 2011
Is it unreasonable to request that they send up a swarm of bots

Yes. That is very unreasonable.

Landing a bot (or anything else) from orbit isn't trivial (at least if you want to have anything left that is more than a chunk of burnt up, warped metal). This takes a lot of packaging per landing (read: weight). So a swarm of bots is out of the question.
And you sir - would it hurt to use GOOGLE once in awhile?
http://web.mit.ed...ots.html
antialias_physorg
3.6 / 5 (8) Sep 02, 2011
And you sir - would it hurt to use GOOGLE once in awhile?

The instruments you want to bring along to do precision testing have a certain size. Sure you could put 1000 balls into the drop vehicle - but what would they provide beyond pretty pictures? When you go down there it's better to have one state-of-the-art instrument along instead of 1000 cheap gadgets with no resuoltion to any of their instruments.

We're dealing with SCIENTIFIC missions here - not PR stunts.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (7) Sep 02, 2011
I agree with Antialias.

Those ball probes don't seem realistic in the near future. The cost of getting to mars is too high to waste a launch on low-value sensors. They don't even have an experimental prototype yet. Let's see them tested here on Earth before you start claiming that it's possible to do this on Mars. For now, as Antialias correctly stated, there's no practical way to send a swarm of robots to mars. This just doesn't exist yet.
that_guy
4 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2011
...and I third antialias and Gswift. The balls are unproven and somewhat limited in scientific value.

I'd like to point out that NASA is veeeeery careful in building their landers for mars. And lucky lucky lucky. It may seem like a walk in the park, but in fact, NASA is the only organization to have a better than 50% success rate to land something on mars. Consider that. That's why Nasa spends so much effort on each lander, rather than sending a bunch, because if they made landers like chinese toys, all the landers would break like chinese toys.

What do you think the chances are that opportunity takes pictures of the first martian astronaut? I hear an energizer commercial coming.
that_guy
5 / 5 (3) Sep 02, 2011
http://en.wikiped..._of_Mars

Just scroll down that list and check out anything with a 'lander' element. Note that even most of the 'successful landings' were mission failures as the landers broke almost immediately afterwards.
that_guy
4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2011
Sorry to spam, but after some research, I just realized that NASA has been the only organization ever to land a probe/rover/whatever on the Martian surface, and have it successfully complete its full expected mission.

If there was one thing that I would defer to NASA's expertise on, putting something on the surface of mars would be it.
gwrede
2 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2011
Not taking part in the One Big vs Loads of Small battle, I'd like to think Man to Mars vs a dozen Opportunity Rovers.

These rovers could carry sligtly different probes, depending on where they are to land. If one compares the scientific value of a man walking aroud for maybe a week or two, to say, 12 Opportunities roving for 7 years each (total 84 years!!), I think it becomes a no-brainer which gives more bang for the buck.

Of course, politicians need to one-up the Russians, the Chinese, and the Indians. But now that the Cold War is fading into memory, this kind of thinking seems dinosaurian.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (16) Sep 02, 2011
We're dealing with SCIENTIFIC missions here - not PR stunts.
I didnt know MIT was located on Madison Ave. Looked like a legitimate SCIENTIFIC and engineering proposal to me.
The instruments you want to bring along to do precision testing have a certain size.
Nobody said anything about mission parameters, only the possibility of a swarm, which you dismissed without any research and little thought.

MIT says a swarm is certainly worth considering for mars exploration.

Flocks of these are also being considered. Flocks are similar to swarms.
http://www.spaced...04a.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (16) Sep 02, 2011
The balls are unproven and somewhat limited in scientific value.
It all depends on what science you wish to conduct.

"The [lava] tubes could be entered through holes that formed on the Mars surface where sections of the tubes have collapsed, but these formations are too treacherous for today's rovers to explore. However, tiny bouncing probes could make their way inside the caves."

"Mars also features canyons that could have once had rivers flowing through them. The canyons, too, are inaccessible to rovers, but small probes might be able to make their way down the canyon faces."

-ETC
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (16) Sep 02, 2011
Let's see them tested here on Earth before you start claiming that it's possible to do this on Mars.
-Can you hold your breath?

"Dubowsky's team plans to test prototypes on Earth this fall and estimates that a trip to Mars is about 10 years away."
For now, as Antialias correctly stated, there's no practical way to send a swarm of robots to mars. This just doesn't exist yet.
-Except that antialias didnt assign his pronouncement a timeframe:
This takes a lot of packaging per landing (read: weight). So a swarm of bots is out of the question.
...and so you doing it for him ex-post-factoid is disingenuous and easily disregarded.
...and I third antialias and Gswift.
-So thats 3 of you who got it wrong. Otto will usually tend to side with the actual professionals who are developing these things using govt money. For NASA.
http://www.univer...balloon/
that_guy
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 02, 2011
Maybe we should...Bolt an artillery cannon onto the upcoming curiosity rover and a couple magazines full of these MIT probes. That way you get the best of both worlds. If curiosity meets an obstacle to something interesting, it can just shoot one of those bouncing probes into it and learn more that way.

Honestly though, the main reason I support that idea is because I'd like to say we conquered mars with guns.
that_guy
not rated yet Sep 02, 2011
So thats 3 of you who got it wrong.


Otto, I could see how a balloon might have some benefits (Mobility, good position for atmospheric sampling), but the balls are a different story. Each ball probe is basically a sensor in a shell. Each shell constitutes packaging weight, and a significan one at that. Also, they will still need a re-entry vehicle to get to the surface - so if you want to explore multiple places, you will need multiple re-entry vehicles. Then there's the part about locomotion after the balls have stopped bouncing. You are talking about a very significant weight increase per data gained. Rovers may be limited on certain levels, but they can keep moving, and find new targets after landing.

A couple balloons might be a good idea, but that wasn't mentioned in your first point. I find it disingenuous for you to misdirect like that. Even there, your sensor balls would have true potential for a single mission at best.
Martian
not rated yet Sep 02, 2011
Mars rocks!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (15) Sep 02, 2011
Otto, I could see how a balloon might have some benefits (Mobility, good position for atmospheric sampling), but the balls are a different story. ... need multiple re-entry vehicles. Then there's the part about locomotion after the balls have stopped bouncing.
They hop.
You are talking about a very significant weight increase per data gained. Rovers may be limited on certain levels, but they can keep moving, and find new targets after landing.
-Sum total of effort = 3 minutes.

"MIT engineers and scientist colleagues have a new vision for the future of Mars exploration: a swarm of probes, each the size of a baseball, spreading out across the planet in every direction."

-Sum total of effort = assume 1 man/year, plus considerable computer time.

I suggest you reread the article I posted and see how many of your objections were addressed in it (all of them). Jesus. Have you left your chair today I wonder?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (15) Sep 02, 2011
A couple balloons might be a good idea, but that wasn't mentioned in your first point. I find it disingenuous for you to misdirect like that. Even there, your sensor balls would have true potential for a single mission at best.
-And yet I did mention that this was also being considered?

"A future Mars mission could include instruments attached to balloons"

-As well as suggesting to your fellow somnambulant antialias that GOOGLE can be a valuable tool for independent research?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
fellow somnambulant

*facepalm*...ever considered that other parts of the world have different time zones?

Not every person on this planet with an internet connection lives in the US (despite what the media may tell you about the cavemanlike conditions outside its borders).
Nobody said anything about mission parameters, only the possibility of a swarm, which you dismissed without any research and little thought.

Missions have a certain purpose: bringing the best possible data back. Lots of low quality data isn't better than a bit less high quality data. When doing scientific missions we should get the best data we can - not the most.
that_guy
5 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
Ghost - A ball is a very innefficient locomotion for something encased in a ball. The hopping prototypes I've seen are not balls. Furthermore, you're speaking of more weight per instrument.

As for NASA considering the balls, balloons, etc. NASA considers a lot of different mission profiles, but that doesn't mean that it will implement impractical ones.

Swarm or flock missions have not been done yet specifically because they are so impractical to implement when you have strenuous weight requirements and difficult environments. They have been considered and rejected, and will for a long time.

You mentioned the balloons AFTER the balls and did not connect the 2. They are completely different things. Defending one thing with another completely unrelated thing is disingenuous.

I gave you the benefit of the doubt, and considered that combining the balls and balloons idea could present a single practical mission profile with the balloons carrying a handful of balls to drop
Jeddy_Mctedder
3 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2011
this rover is awesome. the international space station is faltering and yet this thing on mars is still kicking for almost a decade with nothing but remote support. sometimes when you build it right, it stays right.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (15) Sep 02, 2011
Missions have a certain purpose: bringing the best possible data back. Lots of low quality data isn't better than a bit less high quality data. When doing scientific missions we should get the best data we can - not the most.
Indeed indeed. And people from MIT and Stanford think that these little balls can provide much better quality data in certain applications. So you wear your bunny slippers all the time?
Ghost - A ball is a very innefficient locomotion for something encased in a ball. The hopping prototypes I've seen are not balls. Furthermore blahblah
-Says the guy who still hasn't read the article or didn't understand what he read.

Like I just told your soporific pal, people from MIT and Stanford devised the ball concept for what I'm sure are a number of very good reasons. Shouldn't you maybe be asking 'I wonder WHY these experts came up with this design?' -rather than disregarding their expertise and substituting your own conspicuous lack of clue.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (16) Sep 02, 2011
Swarm or flock missions have not been done yet specifically because they are so impractical to implement when you have strenuous weight requirements and difficult environments. They have been considered and rejected, and will for a long time.
"One thousand of the probes would have the same volume and weight as the Spirit rover. "For the weight and size of Spirit you could certainly send more than 1,000 of these sensors up there, which would have much greater capability," Dubowsky said."

-So I suppose you're going to keep making ignorant statements until I've posted the whole article here. Otto suspects he is being played like a fishy by couch-anglers.
hard2grep
1 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
I would think that a group of bots with detachable tools. One bot drops and the other comes and finishes the job while others retrieve the lost unit. the main command unit could also have a balloon attachment. Mars may not have much air pressure but the air is mostly carbon dioxide which makes for a good amount of force. it would also be beneficial if we researched ways to get energy from the environment beyond solar panels... maybe chemicals from the soil or even wind turbines.We are so used to having what we need that mars almost seems welcoming to us. Mars is a dry gusty place. It is a completely different planet with a different planetary energy structure(earth has water).
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2011
Balloons seem dicey on Mars. We know there are dust storms. Balloons are not known for fast speeds or good maneuverability. How would we weather such a storm? Landing isn't an option because you can't secure the balloon (a slack hull lying on the ground would be blown every which way). Riding out the storm is too risky.

However, tiny bouncing probes could make their way inside the caves."

And how do you propose to broadcast from underneath the surface? With such tiny units?

To do any geological science we'd need to land them and have them take off again without the deflating balloon
- covering the experiment
- covering the antenna
- getting entangled
- getting damaged

... and with no agency to help a tangled balloon on Mars that is a lot of uncalculable risks.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Sep 04, 2011
Rovers sure are getting snazzy these days

http://www.nasa.g...696.html

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (12) Sep 05, 2011
Balloons seem dicey on Mars. We know there are dust storms. Balloons are not known for fast speeds or good maneuverability. How would we weather such a storm? Landing isn't an option because you can't secure the balloon (a slack hull lying on the ground would be blown every which way). Riding out the storm is too risky.
-This from the gentleman with no faith in engineers, not much imagination, and little energy for doing research or following links.

Well of course - germans were working on this since at least before 10 years already.
http://www.spacer...pid=4481

Uber alles. Graf Zeppelin.

"Eventually, a large aeroshell could fall into the Martian atmosphere containing nothing but a balloon. This would be a much larger, longer-lasting craft with navigational control. Such a balloon could perform the long-expected sky to ground tour, deflating at night to visit the surface, and inflating with solar heat during the day to lift off again."
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2011
I've seen these proposals since the early 90's. Gliders, balloons, whatnot (these ideas are far from new). They invariably get rejected.

Anything 'flexible' is a great risk because you can't precalculate what it's going to do or if it's going to snag on something if you do land it. The advantage of a rover is that you can stop, plan, and 15 minutes later when your commands arrive it will still be in the same spot/situation.

The only real use of a balloon will be high resolution pics - something we already have from the ground and space. So this would give us only intermediate level information.

This from the gentleman with no faith in engineers

Oh, I have plenty of faith in engineers. Its just that the best/least risky proposal is the one that should win. At those prices we can't afford too many "oh well - better luck next time" missions.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (3) Sep 06, 2011
Balloons on mars:

From the Mars wiki page -
The surface pressure of Mars at its thickest is equal to the pressure found 35 km[99] above the Earth's surface. This is less than 1% of the Earth's surface pressure (101.3 kPa).


Mars gravity is 39% of Earth's gravity, which somewhat offsets the low pressure, but balloons on Mars would have a very low payload capacity, even with an extremely large balloon. The max altitude of such a balloon would be extremely limited as well. I wouldn't think it would be practical for much more than exploring the deepest canyons, but don't expect a very long mission lifetime. Maintaining line of sight for broadcasting results back to an orbiter also becomes a problem inside a canyon.

In summary, a balloon is a high risk, low return mission, with just as much cost as any other robotic mission. I would favor exhausting the potential of ground rovers before spending time and money on less effective methods. Same goes for microprobes.