Tag

Mars

Lessons from a Martian Mission

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

NASA has just announced the end of the Spirit Rover mission on Mars after no successful contacts since it’s last communication on the 22nd of March 2010. Not a bad effort for what was planned as a 3 month mission starting in January 2004.  There are some great lessons that come out of these missions.

1) Their goal was simple and easy for everyone to understand – “Wear the rovers out exploring, to leave no unutilized capability on the surface of Mars”

2) Their planning was Agile – As the rovers lasted longer and longer the mission team kept rewriting their play book and planning new experiments – “What we initially conceived as a fairly simple geologic experiment on Mars ultimately turned into humanity’s first real overland expedition across another planet.”

3) Sometimes the greatest discoveries come in the most unexpected ways. After the front right wheel stopped working it started to act as a plow when the rover went into reverse; This unplanned ‘feature’ dug up bright white soil enabling one of the most exciting discoveries of the mission, pure silica deposits just under the surface indicating that previously the conditions required for microbe life existed.

You can read more here about Spirit and Opportunity, perhaps NASAs most successful and cost effective missions ever.

Why Luna Tractor?

By | Moon, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

An ingenius solution driven by re-framing the question.

While the Americans were busy landing men on the moon for a few days at a time and playing a little golf the Russian space agency was taking a different approach in their race to the moon.  They built and successfully deployed the first remote-controlled robot to explore another body in space.

Landing in 1970, Lunokhod 1 significantly out lasted its original 3 month mission, sending back images for 11 months after traveling over 10km on the lunar surface.  A second mission Lunokhod 2 was sent in 1973 and covered 37km, operating for 4 months.  To this day it holds the record for the longest distance of surface travel by any extra-terrestrial vehicle.

Some perspective on the Russian achievement: the Mars Rovers have covered less than half the distance and transmitted back about the same number of images using technology some 40 years more mature.

The Apollo program racked up a final bill of $25.4b in 1973 ($170b adjusted to present day).  Each Mars rover has cost the US $400m, so in 1970 the Lunokhod program would have cost Russia perhaps $50 million in 1970 dollars? Personally I think the Apollo program is just magnificent, one of humanity’s great engineering achievements, but the little Lunokhod got rather better bang for buck.

So why Luna Tractor? The Lunokhod – or our English version, Luna Tractor – is a reminder to think laterally about problems, have some imagination and shoot for the moon by being a little bit different.

PS: It is of course still up there, recently photographed by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Thanks to reader Ross for the link.

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