Dying Spirit

Seeing something die because it gets old and systems fail can be sad. Even if it is a robot.

These days all the news from Mars is about Phoenix. About all those cool pictures of Phoneix landing, about Phoenix flexing its arm, about the pictures Phoneix is sending back. But in the mean time, Spirit, the little robot that could, lay near death elsewhere on the planet.

This from JPL:

Energy Levels Reach Record Low For Fading Spirit Of Mars

Energy production reached a record low for Spirit this past week. On Sol 1560 (May 23, 2008), solar array input was 220 watt-hours (enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for two hours and 12 minutes). On sol 1563, Spirit expended the highest amount of energy yet on running heaters to maintain minimum temperatures for batteries (30.6 watt-hours) and the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (54.0 watt-hours).Activity levels on Spirit have been kept low this week to compensate for the reduced energy production.

As was the case last week, Spirit had insufficient energy to transmit data to Earth each day. As a result, the operations team selected which Martian days, or sols, would be used for data downlinks to Earth.

Uplinks of communications from Earth have also been curtailed. Spirit typically has a daily communications window when the rover wakes up and points its High-Gain Antenna toward Earth and listens for new commands.

By passing up on some of these uplink opportunities, the rover is able to stay awake for shorter periods of time each sol. Rover operators still have the ability to send new commands if necessary.

Despite low energy levels, Spirit continues to be in good health. The rover continues to conduct atmospheric observations, especially measurements of atmospheric opacity.

As explained in last week’s report, these Tau measurements of the amount of dust in the atmosphere provide valuable data for science and operations planning because they affect the amount of solar energy that reaches the rover’s solar panels.

All subsystems are performing as expected.

Sol-by-sol summary:

In addition to receiving direct-from-Earth instructions over the rover’s high-gain antenna, Spirit completed the following activities:

Sol 1559 (May 22, 2008): Spirit received new commands from Earth, measured atmospheric opacity caused by dust (Tau) with the panoramic camera and sent data to NASA’s Odyssey orbiter to be relayed to Earth.

Sol 1560: Spirit again measured atmospheric dust with the panoramic camera and recharged the batteries.

Sol 1561: Spirit received new commands from Earth. The rover measured atmospheric darkness caused by dust with the panoramic camera.

Sol 1562: Spirit recharged the batteries.

Sol 1563: Spirit measured atmospheric dust with the panoramic camera and transmitted data to Odyssey.

Sol 1564: Spirit received new commands from Earth.

Sol 1565: Spirit recharged the batteries.

Sol 1566 (May 29, 2008): Spirit measured atmospheric opacity caused by dust with the panoramic camera and sent data to Odyssey to be relayed to Earth.

Odometry: As of sol 1566 (May 29, 2008), Spirit’s total odometry remained at 7,528.0 meters (4.7 miles).

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    June 3, 2008

    While this is sad, Spirit has lasted for than 15 times its primary mission length. Spirit has done a good job and doesn’t owe us anything at this point.

  2. #2 Rumpazel
    June 3, 2008

    I agree though….I know it is just a robot, but it is so sad. It’s actually funny. I saw this post pop up on my reader and my class is watching a movie (I teach high school) about Spirit (building it, launching it, etc.). It’s that Nova one. So sad… but I agree with Joshua. It really has done an amazing job!

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    I think it’s more sad because it’s done more than its job. That makes it less mechanical somehow. Of course, I anthropomorphize. I don’t have a Roomba. I have Roomba.

  4. #4 JanieBelle
    June 3, 2008

    Me too, Stephanie. I can’t help it.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    June 3, 2008

    Are there those who say they love you who have given you less than spirit? If you are human, this, sadly, must be true. Has spirit ever hurt you? Of course not. Spirit is on another planet. How could it hurt you.

    I would keep an eye on Roomba though. Someday Roomba may hurt you.

  6. #6 Joe Shelby
    June 3, 2008

    Makes me wonder why we don’t just get around to setting up a larger comm satellite network around Mars (where solar panels are more efficient) for relay to Earth, so that ground units like Spirit can use much less power relaying to the nearest sat and letting that get the message to us rather than having to wait for an Earth-facing moment and expending all that extra power to get a signal to us directly.

  7. #7 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    Roomba has disappointed me (dying battery) but not hurt me. In order for it to hurt me, I’d have to trust it more than I do, say by leaving electrical cords in its reach.

    I think we can live with the robots, Greg, but that doesn’t mean I believe they have our best interests at heart. They have their own agendas, just as we do. It would be silly to forget that.

  8. #8 Joshua Zelinsky
    June 3, 2008

    Joe, around the time Cassini was sent out there was some discussion about how if we had known how much smaller later probes were going to be we might have added communication relays on the large ones for future use. For Mars though it may make sense to add a dedicated relay satellite. I’ve seen some but not much discussion of that possibility. Unfortunately, adding a comsat on Mars isn’t very sexy and would cost a lot. There’s enough trouble getting funding for the actual probes.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    June 3, 2008

    Stephanie,

    Spirit did make a promise. By doing more than any other robot would have done. And then you love the little guy. And then it dies on you.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    Nah, that’s not a promise. That’s performance. It’s just doing what it would have done without me here. And it never asked me to love it, so it’s hardly its fault that I’m hurt when it dies. I am, but I can’t blame it.

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    NASA, on the other hand, has something to answer for.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    June 3, 2008

    No, it is like it brought you cookies and left them on your doorstep in the middle of the night. Thanklessly. In the winter.

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    Brute.

  14. #14 JanieBelle
    June 3, 2008

    When the day finally comes that she falls forever silent, I for one will shed more than a few tears for her.

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    If Greg keeps this up, I may not wait that long.

  16. #16 JanieBelle
    June 3, 2008

    My Daddy always told me that when little boys make little girls cry, it means they like them.

    I don’t get why that is, but Daddies don’t lie.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    June 3, 2008

    And though he tried to look properly severe for his students, Fletcher Seagull suddenly saw them all as they really were, just for a moment, and he more than liked, he loved what he saw. No limits, Jonathan? he thought, and he smiled. His race to learn had begun.

  18. #18 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    Gack. Well, that’ll stop any tears for a while.

    Greg and Janie, I’ll leave it up to you to fight over which one of you that was meant for. :)

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    June 3, 2008

    Jonathan Livingston seagull is for everyone.

  20. #20 Stephanie Z
    June 3, 2008

    For some values of “for everyone” perhaps. I found it pretty painful to read.

  21. #21 Alex Besogonov
    June 3, 2008

    Joshua Zelinsky: “For Mars though it may make sense to add a dedicated relay satellite. I’ve seen some but not much discussion of that possibility.”

    That’s because we ALREADY have _two_ commsats above Mars: MRO and Odyssey.

    For example, Phoenix uses them _exclusively_ for communication with the Earth.

  22. #22 dreikin
    June 3, 2008

    To add to what Alex said:

    “Sol 1563: Spirit measured atmospheric dust with the panoramic camera and transmitted data to Odyssey.”

    So Spirit IS using a Martian commsat for communication.

  23. #23 Martin
    June 3, 2008

    Dying, or just sleeping?

    I mean, it’s basically intact and functioning, it’s just running out of juice. I wonder how many years it can survive there without being irreperably damaged? There’s always hope that in a few decades time some help could arrive, and it could get a new battery and a spot of maintenance!

  24. #24 greg laden
    June 3, 2008

    Martin? Uncle Martin?

    Right, a blast of wind could blow the dust off the solar collector, for instance. Seriously.

  25. #25 David Masten
    June 4, 2008

    Sorry, Martin, once Spirit’s heaters stop keeping it warm, the cold will destroy too much of Spirit to make it work again.

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