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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Jan > Jan 7

Upgrade Makes Aging Mars Rovers Smarter

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2007 11:39:04 -0500
Fwd Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2007 11:39:04 -0500
Subject: Upgrade Makes Aging Mars Rovers Smarter

Source: Yahoo News Canada


Sat Jan 6, 4:21 PM

Upgrade Makes Aging Mars Rovers Smarter

Alicia Chang
AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The twin Mars rovers are getting wiser with

Engineers have transmitted new flight software to the rovers'
onboard computers - just in time for the third anniversary of
their landings. The software is aimed at boosting their
intelligence and independence so that they can roll around the
Red Planet with less help from humans.

"We're teaching an old dog new tricks," said John Callas, the
mission project manager with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the
NASA agency in charge of the rovers.

Among the rovers' new skills is the ability to automatically
recognize and transmit to Earth photographs that they take of
swirling dust devils or floating clouds. They can also
independently decide whether it is safe to extend their robotic
arms to sample rocks.

Before, scientists had to painstakingly dissect thousands of
images just to find the frames they need and decide for the
rovers whether to use their arms. The high-tech upgrades should
help save time - as much as a day because scientists on Earth
don't have to study a rock before sending commands to the robot
to use science instruments on it.

If successful, the changes could get incorporated into future
Mars missions.

Spirit and Opportunity were also fitted with a new navigation
system that allows them to think several steps ahead when faced
with an obstacle, allowing them to back out of a dead end or
even navigate a maze on their own, Callas said. The robot
geologists have previously tackled one problem at a time.

Spirit landed three years ago and Opportunity on Jan. 24, 2004.
Entering their fourth year of exploration, both golf cart-sized
vehicles have long outlasted their primary missions, originally
planned for about three months. While scientists are impressed
by the rovers' longevity, they admit the robots could die at any

The rovers' biggest accomplishment is uncovering geologic
evidence that water once flowed on Mars. Spirit is currently
studying rocks and soil samples near a Martian ridge while
Opportunity is circling the rim of a massive crater for possible
ways in.

[Thanks to Greg Boone for the lead]

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