NASA: Robotic arm key to finding life on Mars
Engineers beaming up daily software code to run the 7.5-foot arm and analyze soil samples
The 7.5-foot long arm has an attached scoop and drill bit that will dig up Martian ice and dust on the northern pole of the planet, according to Matthew Robinson, robotic arm flight software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The collected material will be analyzed onboard the Mars Lander and the results sent back to Earth.
"The robotic arm is basically the key to this mission," said Robinson. "None of it is any good if you don't have a robotic arm to bring in samples. We'd be able to get pictures, but what excites me is acquiring a sample and processing it, because that gives us a whole new set of knowledge. We're not looking for life itself. We're looking for the elements that support life. We couldn't do it without the arm."
The robotic arm, which weighs betwee 20 and 30 pounds on Earth, has four joints. One is an azimuth joint that allows the arm to rotate around the base. Another is an elevation joint that enables the arm to be raised and lowered. The third is a double-jointed elbow and the 3-to4-in.-wide scoop is attached to the last joint.
During the spacecraft's takeoff and flight through space, the arm was restrained by a series of latches. The robot had to endure several G forces of acceleration during takeoff, hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour. Then it endured the heat and turbulence of touching down on the Martian surface. Robinson noted that out of 11 missions to Mars, only six spacecraft have successfully landed on the surface.
"The robotic arm was designed to be able to take the types of vibrations and G forces expected, but even still you're concerned," said Robinson. "You work with it so much, it feels like a child. You know you've done your best and it can handle it, but you're still anxious about your baby."
The Mars Lander, on a one-way mission, is expected to gather and analyze samples for three months. After that, Robinson explained that the planet's temperature will drop well below the current safe range of minus 170 degrees Fahrenheit to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the Lander to freeze up and stop working.
Until that point, earthbound software programmers like Robinson will send daily code feeds to Mars to guide the robotic arm as it gathers samples. Robinson explained that they developed their own software program using C code. Every day they write, test and beam new code sequences to the Mars Lander to run the robotic arm. They send the code from ground-based radar dishes to two of the three orbiters circling Mars. From there, the code is beamed down to the spacecraft on the surface.
- Silicon Valley's 19 Coolest Places to Work
- Is Windows 8 Development Worth the Trouble?
- 8 Books Every IT Leader Should Read This Year
- 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- Acxiom Case Study This case study, which focuses on Acxiom, explores how the company was able to secure employee data, reduce migration costs and boost productivity...
- Windows® XP Migration: Protect and Secure Critical Data With the end of the Microsoft Windows XP operating system's lifecycle on April 8, 2014, businesses are faced with the decision to migrate...
- Exponentially Accelerate Data Protection and Recovery with Simpana 10 IntelliSnap® Snapshot Management Technology Are you making the best use of your storage array snapshot functionality? CommVault Simpana 10 IntelliSnap technology manages hardware-based snapshots across multiple vendor...
- Simpana IntelliSnap Technology Datasheet With IntelliSnap you can maximize the value of your snapshot technology while dramatically reducing management overhead and complexity.
- Redefine Your IT Operations: Remote Office IT Has Never Been Simpler Join us to see why PC Pro named Dell PowerEdge VRTX the "2013 Server of the Year." PowerEdge VRTX may be just what...
- Top 4 Digital Signage Fails Join RMG Networks for a look at four of the most common reasons digital signage fails in corporate businesses. Learn about strategies to... All Hardware White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!