back to article DIYers rejoice: Hitting stuff to make it work even works in space

The percussive maintenance NASA carried out on the Curiosity Rover's drilling machinery has worked, and the robot has started analysing Martian rock samples again. In mid-May, NASA announced its plan to restart the drill, which had been out of action since a motor failed in October 2016. Agency boffins first tried “Feed …

  1. scrubber

    As we make the pathways for electrons smaller it becomes ever more likely they will get jammed so bashing the system will clearly be the most effective fix going forward.

    1. Fungus Bob

      You are Stephen Fry and I claim my 5$.

  2. terrythetech
    Thumb Up

    Ah, the technicians solution - the trick is knowing where to hit. I made a living out of knowing exactly where to hit to make things start to chooch again.

    1. Oliver Mayes

      All good technicians have a selection of hammers, from the precision toffee hammer up to the majestic rubber mallet. Knowing precisely where to hit, how hard, and with which hammer is a skill all of its own.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        "All good technicians have a selection of hammers ..."

        I disagree - all good technicians should have an HSE-approved protective pad of hard skin on the heel of their hand which can be delivered in a highly focused force distribution pattern and frequency to match specific system requirements ...

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

          Us technical/engineering

          already have that hard pad for percussive maintenence of equipment and as a plus, we develop hardened pads over our knuckles too for applying percussive maintenence to the idiot that broke the equipment in the first place

          1. Tikimon

            Re: Us technical/engineering

            OMG surely you're forgetting one, I have it anyway. The thickened callus on the forehead from beating it on walls when the palm and knuckle pads fail to resolve the issue.

            New product, folks? Wall-mounted Therapy Pad, placed like fire extinguishers in strategic locations? Customizable of course, maybe the company logo would be appropriate for once!

        2. handleoclast

          @Andy The Hat

          all good technicians should have an HSE-approved protective pad of hard skin on the heel of their hand

          Seriously, don't do that. Do it enough times and you cause serious medical problems. Irreversible ones.

    2. ArrZarr Silver badge

      The layman knows to hit it.

      The support team know where to hit it.

      The engineer knows how hard to hit it.

    3. swm

      I heard a story where a maintenance man would regularly use a rubber hammer on a big coil to start an oscillator running. Evidently, changing the inductance would cause an impulse that caused oscillations to start.

  3. Arachnoid

    The next Rover evolution

    Has long ambidextrous arm with large and small hammer attachment

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: The next Rover evolution

      And a (real) paperclip for next option; "if in doubt, short it out".

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: The next Rover evolution

      beer for saying it before I did

  4. Arachnoid


    Are you having difficulty with your Rover?

  5. Sgt_Oddball

    full circle....

    Early man bashes rocks to survive...

    Modern man bashes rocks on other worlds for curiosity....

    1. Chris G

      Re: full circle....

      Indeed, bashing things is the basis for all technology, bashing rocks together gives you sharp edges for cutting and sparks for fire, bashing other animals stops them eating you and gives you food.

      Bashing other people gives you whatever they had before you bashed them.

      Bashing a keyboard gives you ...........Facebook!

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        Re: full circle....

        Indeed, bashing things is the basis for all technology

        In the words of the inimitable Douglas Adams, "We'll be saying a big hello to all intelligent lifeforms everywhere and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys."

      2. Mark 85

        Re: full circle....

        Bashing other people gives you whatever they had before you bashed them.

        Bashing a keyboard gives you ...........Facebook!

        Bashing the computer gives you a feeling of satisfaction along with some peace and quite when done.... and turns off Facebook.

    2. Anonymous Custard

      Re: full circle....

      Modern man bashes rocks on other worlds for curiosity....

      Or indeed with Curiosity...

      Don't knock percussive maintenance!

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    One unavoidable trade-off in getting the drill working again is that some science had to be abandoned: “Curiosity's drill is now permanently extended,” the post said, a configuration that means it can no longer use its sieve device, the CHIMERA (Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis).

    No doubt the boffins will figure out a way to resolve this problem as well.

    1. Sgt_Oddball

      Well it's cold out there on Mars so give it a little time and it'll shrink back all on its own....

    2. Tom Paine
      Thumb Up

      resolved: workaround

      They have - ""feed extended drilling". The drill feed motor extends and retracts the chunk and drill bit assembly by a few cm. Instead they're positioning the drill bit using the entire arm and turret, which is potentially problematic (which is why the mass and complexity of a drill feed mechanism was sent to Mars in the first place.)

    3. Tikimon

      Priapism for robots? The gnarly little rover will pop its circuits one day. I'm amused knowing that it will meet Eternity with the equivalent of a proud boner.

  7. tip pc Silver badge

    Mars soil is very dry?

    Mars soil is very dry and since nobody could pop over to Mars and see if the technique worked there was concern that the powder would fall off the bit on the way to the laboratory.

    Given the ambiguity of the presence of water on Mars i would have assumed the soil was completely dry meaning 0 moisture. If it was just very dry i would have thought NASA and company would have been jumping at the bit to get over there and do more intense life sign searches.

    1. Adrian Midgley 1

      Re: Mars soil is very dry?

      IANAG but that talks about a hydrated mineral.

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: Mars soil is very dry?

        "IANAG but that talks about a hydrated mineral."

        that article speaks about water on mars billions of years ago that formed those deposits. Not water on the surface of mars today.

    2. Tom Paine

      Re: Mars soil is very dry?

      There's no ambiguity about water at Mars. Apart from the vast pile of remote sensing data (neutron spectrometer on Odyssey made the first such detection IIRC?), Mars Phoenix dug it up...

  8. Jan 0 Silver badge

    "half a baby aspirin"

    Is NASA cutting babies in half or does NASA use aspirin for under 16s?

    Is this a cunning NASA ploy to replace El Reg units?

    Long live the (milli) Jub!

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Tom Paine

    The book

    This book (so far - I'm only 60% through) is an amazingly absorbing detailed review of Curiosity. Highly recommended

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: The book

      It's an AMAZING book. I've read it twice. She's a hell of a writer and explainer, and she makes the driest of technical details interesting. She also does a good job of fitting all the bits together into the whole system and showing how it all interacts.

  11. gregthecanuck

    Don't take the blue pill

    “Curiosity's drill is now permanently extended”

    First documented case of rover priapism?

  12. Patched Out

    Is there a problem

    if the drill remains extended for more than four hours?

  13. Nimby

    "a configuration that means it can no longer use its sieve device, the CHIMERA"

    Which means that...

    Curiosity killed the cat*.

    *= In Greek mythology a chimera was part lion.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: "a configuration that means it can no longer use its sieve device, the CHIMERA"

      El Reg - Quo cum venisset iocos Duis congue sem.

  14. Tom Paine

    PS:: typo's CHIMRA not CHIMERA, though I believe the barbarians at Curiosity Control pronounce it the TVR way.

  15. Tromos

    Because management types tend to frown on expensive kit being lifted up and dropped, the maintenance logs at work had this practice entered as: "Controlled squarewave deceleration test".

  16. Arachnoid

    Social Interation

    Just ask the next passing UFO to give the lander a tune up

  17. VikiAi

    I find that...

    ...even just the threat of a good pounding is sometimes enough to get some gear working again!

  18. Chairman of the Bored

    My introduction to percussive microwave engineering

    I was sent to study what a tech was doing to tune a waveguide manifold for a radar antenna feed. Picture a rectangular pipe ... machined to incredible precision ... with a large number of branch lines coming off, each fed through a carefully designed and calibrated slot. Opposite the slots are dozens of little screws (with lock nuts) that partially protrude into the guide for tuning. Tens of thousands of $, and hooked to hundreds of grand worth of test equipment

    And the tech? Carefully filing off all the exposed cal screws and brazing the stubs to render useless. He has a stick with quarter wavelengths marked off and is industriously beating divots into the E plane with a ball peen hammer or crushing the guide with a C clamp on H, with his beatings or bulges aligned with the quarter wave marks. He's concentrating very hard on the network analyzer display while beating the hell out of the guide.

    Me: "why dont you just use the tuners?"

    Tech: "you gotta eliminate any adjustment. Leave a screw head exposed and some sailors gonna turn it and fsck up everything "

    Tech: "do it my way and she stays tuned forever"




    "Tech: what happens when you give a sailor three large ball bearings?

    Me: ?

    "Tech: ones gonna get broken, ones gonna get lost, and ones gonna get pregnant "

    And so I shut up and learned f

  19. toffer99

    Did plain old low-rent Boffins fix it, or was it the Astroboffins. Or maybe the Geoboffins. Nope, it was the DrillerBoffins.

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