back to article NASA's nuclear Mars tank is go

NASA's plans to land a large nuclear-powered robotic tank on Mars are back on track, with the first section of its "sky crane" hovering lander module delivered from the makers and funding problems ironed out. US aerospace titan Lockheed Martin announced yesterday that they had shipped the "backshell" for the Mars Science …


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  1. Steve Cooper

    The chances of anything coming from Mars...

    That laser is a bit death ray like from The War Of The Worlds isn't it? Bit weak in comparison though - can't see it vapourising a local martian....

  2. Richard Gadsden

    Not nuclear-powered, radiation-powered


  3. Anonymous Coward

    Groovy vid but ....

    ... is there no other way to get the gizmo down where they need it without discarding so much tin? Another thing, anyone else besides me thought "those cables are going to get twisted!".

    Just saying.

  4. Beelzeebub

    Mars is Virgin

    ...unlike Earth.

    Must we start polluting it from day 1, by crashing landers onto it?

    Sorry, forgot about the nuclear waste.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One drawback with nuclear

    Is that the total amount of power that can be got from the RTG is strictly limited, it's highly unlikely this rover's mission can be extended time and time again like the current pair.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Hey; what happens when the sky crane rockets melt the wheels of the robot? Ive seen the wheels and they are cunning things but so meltable....

    Twisting cables; hmm could be fun. Wonder what torsional moments the twisting is likely to induce (assuming they are not tangled?). Would have been much better to use a single cable... but rockets would probably burn through that too...

    Unless the sky crane is in fact the secret hovering devices based upon the Rockwell technology.

    I wont use a tinfoil hat - offers no protection from sky crane rockets.

  7. Ian Hunter

    Money well spent

    With such a complicated delivery mechanism, this lander is worth all the money thrown at it. What could possibly go wrong?

  8. Rob

    I've missed something

    So it's battery packs will only run for a year or so? Does that not make it less successful than the little rovers currently there? Isn't one still active and roaming about?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I am torn between cheering "Go Wall-E, go!" and wondering when misters Robinson and Goldberg began doing engineering for NASA.

    "Just turn the crank and [fire the explosive bolts] and boot the [module] right down the [gravity well], now watch it roll [around] the pole, and [pulverise] the [rock] in the rub-a-dub tub, which flips the [sample] into the pan...the [experiment] is set... here comes the [gas chromatograph]..."

    Methinks the boffins have been playing a little too much Mouse Trap, no?

  10. Chris

    Swanky video

    Blimey, the swank levels on NASA videos have gone up recently haven't they? This one looks like it was done by the Firefly effects people - all that shaky camera/hand zooming during the descent. Lovely stuff.

    Regarding the actual mission, I heartily approve. We need to show our strength to the Martian pigs before they try anything - not only can we spread chaos by the surprise dropping of large lumps of metal on their cities, but while they're reeling from that initial assault we send in the Nuclear Powered Ray Gun Death Tank to lay waste to what's left of their resistance.

    Sample collection my arse.

  11. Anonymous Coward


    Are you some kind of rock-hugger-commie-liberal or something?

    The aliens deserve only DEATH! Followed swiftly by whatever boot-in-alien-face-stomping totalitarian regime that Uncle Sam and the US Space Marine Corp chooses to impose!

    They will for one welcome their new carbon-based ape-descended earthling overlords.

  12. David Cornes
    Thumb Down

    Less waste on Earth, more and more in space?

    Agreed, it does seem a damn wasteful way to do things. I'm sure a million scientists could talk me to death with the answer to this, but what exactly are we frikkin' well getting (of actual use!) from all this exploration of Mars? Interesting pictures yep, but otherwise...?

    And watching that video of the thing coming in to land, was anyone else reminded of the dropship sequence in Aliens?? "Prepare for immediate dust-off on my mark"! :-D

  13. Ian Ferguson


    Pleeeease NASA paint the main camera yellow...


  14. Adam Foxton

    Hovertanks on Mars?

    Can anyone say Battlezone?

    It's the one with "I will be watching the sunrise from Olympus Mons long before NASA takes their first steps on the moon" on the back.

  15. Steve

    Dragging in the Wind

    I have a feeling those cables won't release and the lander will be dragged bouncing and banging across the Martian surface. With NASA it's those little sub-systems that trip them up.

  16. Dave

    single cable?


    NASA marketing not lined up with NASA engineering? There is a picture on the NASA web site that shows a single cable

  17. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

    Less waste on Earth, more and more in space?

    Can't see anything going wrong with it. If it fails it will make us look good; if it is successful it will provide more military input for long range penetration of small penetration penetrators.

    Think of all those brown skinned people they'll be able to kill if Obama Wan Kenova doesn't get elected.

    Think of all those brown skinned people in the USA already who won't get health care or decent housing if the cuts aren't made. Which will make us look good if only we can re-employ those stinking, thieving, grabbing, crooked, bank scammers as toilet attendants in our Notvery Healthy Hospitals.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    @ David Cornes - but what exactly are we frikkin' well getting (of actual use!)

    Similar questions about what the worth of things are always asked - but if research was limited to what we can see an immediate or short term potential, then things like electricity wouldn't be part of our lives

    but one of the immediate gains from space exploration - a lot of effort is put into development of miniaturisation of instruments (just consider the difference in use between PC today and computer 40 years ago to see how unpredictable the effects of changes like that can be) and autonomous systems

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yes, you have missed something. The current Rovers have very limited instrumentation, and so their power requirements are relatively low. So low, in fact, that they're solar powered.

    The MSL is a far more sophisticated device. It's essentially an analytical chemistry lab on wheels, requiring RTGs to provide sufficient juice.

    Incidentally, I think the author has some of his facts wrong. The MSL RTGs are good for 14 years - see

    The rover itself is unlikely to last this long, though. Martian dust is abrasive stuff.

  20. b

    nice little vid

    seems rather heath robinson..but cute.

    if it breaks down and stays there, will it pollute mars with nuclear radiation? ^^

    i'm all for colonising mars tho..were it not for the cold war, we prob could already be living on mars..

    (apparently the americans like "life on mars", so that's good then!)



    p.s. stuff and nonsense:

  21. Gordon

    A bit heath robinson

    Hovering lander cranes? What will they come up with next - Wrap it in airbags and let it bounce? Oh wait........

  22. Franklin

    Polluting Mars with radiation...

    ...c'mon. Seriously? That's what people are worried about--"polluting Mars with radiation"?

    Listen, Mars is ALREADY polluted with radiation. It has no magnetic field and a tenuous atmosphere; the surface of Mars is a hell of radiation. So much so that any future meat units we send there will need to arrive in a spaceship shielded against it, and with space suits likewise shielded.

    "Radiation" is the new bogeyman under the bed. So many folks are scared to death of it; so few folks know what it actually is.

    Worrying about "polluting Mars with radiation" is like worrying about getting Mars all dusty. It's a tribute to how frightened we are of eeeeeeevil radiation and how profoundly ignorant we are as a society that anyone could even dream up such a concern.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Mars isn't Virgin

    The Americans, Russians and Europeans have been crashing landers onto Mars since the 70s.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    I can see the design need to make a new system, but since the existing rovers are STILL going when they had a design life of about 90 days, we already know how to make them, can't we knock up another batch of Spirit/Opportunity class rovers and send them? Should be nice and cheap compared to a whole new system development...

  25. TJ


    So Mars is total 70's Hippie whore! Groovy.

    As per the little rovers, Both still roam about. One is just dragging a Limb. I do hope when we eventually get there they find one, save it, and museum it. Those things rocked! (Tiny, and Really unsophisticated, but still, anything that lives beyond a NASA Time of Death, is worthy, IMO)

    PS - This MSL thing is about the Size of an American Ford Explorer, so Its pretty substantial kit. From what I read, They basically took the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, blew them up, ditched the solar, and packed on more gear. (Obviously with the new power cells)

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Can I get one of those batteries for my laptop?

    Enough power for a year of driving around shooting frikkin' laser beams? Hell yeah.

    I guess there is the tiny little issue of it having plutonium in it. I promise to be *really careful* with it though.

    It'll probably add a little weight as well.

  27. Mike


    The skycrane will then fly away to crash safely somewhere well away from the rover.

    Sure it will.

  28. Graham Marsden

    I hope the Martian are ready...

    ... to welcome their Nuclear-Powered, Laser Wielding, Robotic Tank Overlords...!

  29. Stewart Haywood

    @Steve Cooper

    "can't see it vapourising a local martian"

    Who needs to vapourise the whole martian when it is able to vapourise their rocks!

  30. Winston Smith

    @Mars is Virgin

    Apparently not.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Denizens of Barsoom vs. the Berserker

    Tars Tarkas will quickly dispatch this mechanical monstrosity with a few radium projectiles.

  32. Viet

    talk about obfuscated !

    When Nasa gets its inspiration from cartoons, what could possibly go wrong ?

    Pinky: "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"

    The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the (martian) world."

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