Solving Operations

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-02-06 Print this article Print

Solving Operations
The solution: Delete excess files and send a patch instructing the rovers how to use their flash and random memories more conservatively.

This patch was also sent to the second rover, Opportunity, which had meanwhile experienced a flawless landing on Jan. 24. That mobile explorer maintained communications with Earth even while it was bouncing to a stop. Then it flipped itself upright and began sending back images from its 20-megapixel stereo cameras.

By the end of January, the Mars exploration programs head scientist, Steve Squyres, said he was optimistic both rovers ultimately will work well beyond the three months originally planned. "We built margin [of error] on top of margin [of error], specifically to allow for the fact that things go wrong on a place like Mars," he says.

The resuscitation of Spirit continued a record of long-distance network recoveries for the space program. In 1990, the Galileo spacecraft sent to Jupiter suffered what could have been a mission-ending failure when its umbrella-like main antenna failed to unfold properly, but JPL managed to reprogram the spacecraft in flight. In that case, mission managers sent compression software that allowed Galileo to transmit data and high-resolution images over a backup antenna.

The rehabilitation of Spirit also came as explorations of Mars were putting unprecedented demands on the Deep Space Network. If Beagle 2 had remained in contact, NASA also would have assisted the Europeans with communications for that lander.

To accommodate Spirit and Opportunity, the Deep Space Network has to maintain round-the-clock communication. Because they are on opposite sides of the planet, the two rovers operate on roughly opposite shifts. When one is in daylight, it gathers power through its solar panels, while the other powers down for the night.

For the $860-million mission to be completely successful, scientists wanted both rovers actively searching for signs that liquid water existed on Mars.

But, in any event, sending twin rovers to Mars served as insurance for NASA in case one robot was lost-redundant outposts of the 100-million-mile network.

Next Page: What you should do to run a space network.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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