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Martian dust storm covers Spirit's solar panels in dust

This has proven to be a bad week for NASA rovers patrolling Mars. NASA has several rovers on the surface of Mars performing various missions including looking for water and existence of ice on the red planet.

Yesterday, NASA announced that it had lost communications with the Phoenix lander and had no expectations of the lander surviving the inhospitable Martian winter. Despite the fact that the rover has been declared dead by NASA, the Phoenix mission was a success and lasted longer than originally planned by NASA.

Today, NASA has announced that the Spirit rover is also in jeopardy of failing. Lack of sunlight hitting the solar panels of Spirit is causing serious concern at NASA. According to scientists on the mission, Spirit only produced 89 watt-hours of energy last weekend, which is half the amount of power the rover needs for full performance.

The reason for the drop in power production is a massive dust storm that deposited Martian dust on the solar panels and prevented sunlight form reaching them. Spirit's mission began in 2003 when it was sent to the red planet to search for clues on past water on the surface of the planet.

To help conserve power and prevent Spirit from running its batteries dry, NASA instructed the rover to turn off several heaters designed to keep scientific instruments warm. The rover was also ordered to stop communicating with Earth until Thursday.

NASA says that if it doesn't hear form Spirit on Thursday it will be extremely concerned. Scientists hope Spirit will make it, the dust storms over it position have abated. It's not known if the storm caused damage to any of the rover's instruments at this time or if the rover will be able to move again due to the dust on the panels.

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Best solution
By omgwtf8888 on 11/12/2008 1:50:13 PM , Rating: 1
A Dome would be heavy and impractical, same with a wiper. The motor and electricity needed to power it would be prohibitive. The cleaner solution would have been to use a concept similar to that used on motorsport helmets. They employ a series of clear transparancies that can be ripped off one layer at a time to keep helmet sceens visible.

RE: Best solution
By SpaceJumper on 11/12/2008 2:40:24 PM , Rating: 3
Space grade solar panels have the micro-dome lens that designed to capture light at all angles. Putting multi-layers of diffraction will reduce the light intensity and light capturing capability. Peeling it off requires a dependency of a secondary mechanical arm. I am sure NASA went through many very vigorous PDR (Preliminary Design Review) and CDR (Critical Design Review) prior to the production of these Rovers.

RE: Best solution
By FITCamaro on 11/12/2008 4:22:59 PM , Rating: 5
No the best solution is to ignore the hippies and make future probes nuclear powered. This way they can run for 50 years with far more power and they won't have to care about the weather.

RE: Best solution
By Grast on 11/12/2008 5:35:48 PM , Rating: 2
Here here, my exact thought as I am reading these responses.

RE: Best solution
By arazok on 11/12/2008 5:54:15 PM , Rating: 3
They have plans for a nuclear version - it may be canceled, but I imagine NASA will find the funding.

RE: Best solution
By rudolphna on 11/12/2008 8:09:07 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly! Its the same idea as what Voyagers 1 and 2 used. Which are radio isotope thermoelectric generators. Which basically is harnessing the heat generated by nuclear decay. Voyager will still be going until 2020, 40 some odd years after they were launched. No maintence, no water needed, unlike traditional nuclear power. (Im a Voyager Buff :D )

RE: Best solution
By tjr508 on 11/13/08, Rating: 0
RE: Best solution
By teldar on 11/13/2008 12:56:30 PM , Rating: 2
A conventional explosion is NOT the same as a nuclear explosion.
The amount of radioactive material that would be spread in a situation like that is nowhere near enough to consider it a huge issue.

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