Friday, January 30, 2004

Mars Update, 30 January 04

So Spirit broke... first they thought it was because an electrical storm had corrupted the instructions sent to the rover, then they thought the flash memory on the rover was corrupt, but now they appear to have settled on the idea that the glitch was caused by the filesystem dumping too many files into the flash memory, which put the rover into a sort of perpetually looping reset. At the present time they are working to recover the data that is in the flash, as well as fix the bug so it doesn't happen again. Spirit is sending back pictures and talking to NASA now, so it should be a (relatively) simple thing to reprogram the computer and get everything running again.

Opportunity landed safely, sending back pictures of the little crater it landed in. There are some strange soil patterns around the rover, and marks made by the rover's airbags can be seen nearby. Opportunity is set to roll off its base on Saturday night, if everything continues to go well.

The ESA's program is excellent, as well. The Beagle lander is still missing, but the lander wasn't the most important part of their mission... it was just a sort of interplanetary hitchhiker. The main goal for that mission is the Mars Express orbiter, which is doing quite well, returning some amazing pictures.

There has been some whining and grumbling in the press about Spirit breaking down and Beagle getting lost, which seems to primarily be a reflection of the public's ignorance about just how difficult it is to get a ship anywhere near Mars, let alone land something safely on the surface. Check out the scorecard to see how well Earth's various missions have done against the red planet.

NASA is (thankfully) reconsidering its decision to drop the Hubble telescope, in a reaction to the collective cry of "what the fuck?" that accompanied the news that they planned to let Hubble burn up in the atmosphere once its orbit decays. I'm not sure what they can do about it, however, given that the country's fear of shuttle accidents exceeds its thirst for knowledge. And then of course the whole thing runs smack into the far-reaching vision of our idiot president. The Hubble is still giving us the best view of the beauty of the universe we have ever seen... it's a shame to let that fade away just so some despot can militarize space.