Grandmother Spirit

January 30, 2010

Who could forget having their hearts squeezed by the adorable little drones from “Silent Running”?  Huey(2), Dewey(1)  and Louie(3).

It is a cult film that packs some powerful messages and not just about environmentalism.   I must have been 10-11 years old when I first saw it and I have watched it heaps of times since.  The final scene of  the forest greenhouse drifting off into space with just little Dewey all on his lonesome to take care of it is painfully poignant. 

As someone commented in response to XKCD’s brilliant Spirit Rover comic:

 I’m NOT crying. I’m only……cutting onions.

The following from Slashdot -News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.

Don’t get me wrong, Spirit’s situation is bad. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. 

We are not going to extricate Spirit by winter, that much is true: we have a handful of drive attempts left, we progressed about 7.4 cm on our best sol so far — 4-5cm has been more typical for our recent drive attempts — and we have over a meter to go (to the nearest likely extrication point) before we no longer have enough energy to drive. You can’t argue with arithmetic: we’re not going to make it in time.

Instead, we’ll focus our remaining drive attempts on improving Spirit’s northerly tilt, which in turn improves her energy intake through the winter. We’ll then hunker down for the winter and focus on performing stationary science, such as investigating the soil and rocks we’ve newly exposed during our extrication driving and participating in radio science experiments to determine whether Mars’s core is liquid or solid. (Incidentally, how freaking cool is that?!)

After about six months of stationary science observations, we’ll start moving again, at least within a small area. If Spirit feels up to it, we might even get properly back on the road again next year, though her mobility will always be limited — relative to what she used to be able to achieve — by the fact that she now has two broken wheels, not just one. That second wheel failure was what put the kibosh on our first serious attempts at extrication from the “Troy” sand pit. We now have a workaround that has been showing some real promise; there’s just not enough time to complete that path before winter stops us.

As an important caveat, that “six months of stationary science” will be extended by however long Spirit goes into a low-power mode for the winter. We are likely not to hear from her at all for about six months, and during that time she can’t make the observations that will contribute to the stationary science plan, so she’ll probably be sitting still for an Earth year or so. Worst of all, during that low-power period, she might die: lack of energy means insufficient heating means components operating below design temperatures means, possibly, end of life. But if she survives that, she’ll move again.

In summary: Grandma was already limping, and now she’s broken her leg. She’s also probably going to go into a coma for a while. But we’ve known her a long time and she’s a feisty sucker; don’t ever, ever count her out.

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