There is a common joke when talking about government projects that whatever the project is the government should let Wal-Mart do it because it’ll come in under budget and ahead of schedule. I propose that from now on we let NASA take on all government projects.
Remember those two twin Mars rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) that landed on the red planet some five years ago? Their mission was to collect data for three weeks and send it back to Earth. The models were designed to survive for three weeks and after that any time we got out of them would be a bonus. Well, here we are more than five years later and those two little rovers are still going strong!
An accumulation of dust on the rovers’ electricity-generating solar panels was expected to be one of the most likely causes of their eventual deaths, but wind has occasionally cleaned the panels.
Spirit, however, has an 18-month buildup of dust and its panels were barely able to provide sufficient power during Mars’ just-ended southern hemisphere winter. At one point it failed to receive commands, and its status fell to “serious but stable” condition.
These little robots are amazing. It’s a shame that we’ll likely never be able to recover them and bring them back to earth. They’ve provided such an incredible view of the Martian landscape – it would be great to have them in the Smithsonian.