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A Mars rover  (Source: NASA)

The discovery made on the Red Planet  (Source: NASA)
The Mars rovers continue to impress

NASA this week announced its Mars Exploration Rover Spirit discovered a patch of land on Mars that revealed the possibility of a past environment able to sustain microbial life.

While exploring a scientifically important area of Mars last May, Spirit, while dragging a broken wheel on the surface, discovered a patch of "nearly pure silica" found the Home Plate section of Mars.  Scientists believe it came from a hot-spring or fumarole -- an environment which forces acidic steam to rise through cracks on the planet's surface, also stripping mineral components while leaving only silica behind.

Even though the rovers were not designed to evaluate possible signs of life, each discovery like this one provides pieces to a complicated puzzle on Mars.  Researchers hope to have the opportunity to study this specific location on Home Plate when new missions are launched to the Red Planet.  The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), scheduled to launch in September 2009, will be NASA's first chance to head back to Home Plate.

"Whichever of those conditions produced it, this concentration of silica is probably the most significant discovery by Spirit for revealing a habitable niche that existed on Mars in the past," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for data gathered by the rovers.

Spirit now has only two weeks to safely arrive at a sun-facing slope on Home Plate before strong dust storms paralyzes it for the winter.

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RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By MastermindX on 12/12/2007 1:04:56 PM , Rating: 3
To me a scientist that estimates that the mars rover is only supposed to last 90 days and it is still going strong three years later is incompetant and should be fired.

OMG! My microwave is only guaranteed for 90 days and it's still working after 8 years without repair!!! The engineer who designed it need to be hung!</sarcasm>

I guess that 90 days prediction was more of a minimal duration than a maximal one.

It is not because something is designed to work at least 90 days without breaking that it won't last 10 years.

I'm not an engineer, but I'm pretty sure mechanical wear is harder to evaluate than energy usage.

RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By Adonlude on 12/12/2007 2:23:22 PM , Rating: 3
You're microwave manufacturer doesn't spend billions of tax payer dollars nor does it need big successes and surprises to justify its spending. NASA wasn't going to give us our money back if the rovers had failed in less than 90 days, nor would they have replaced them. Excellent analogy otherwise though.

RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By Aiserou on 12/12/2007 4:44:29 PM , Rating: 3
There is also the fact that nobody expected the wind to clean off the solar panels so effectively. It was fully expected that after 90 days the panels would be so covered in dust that the rovers would no longer be able to function, so 90 days was given as a minimal mission time.

Also, traveling across an alien terrain via remote can be ridiculously hard. If they manage to get the rover stuck in loose dirt or something, its not like someone can just go kick it loose. Every time they move an inch, they spend hours, if not days, evaluating things like soil density, slope angle, rock size, etc.

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