Frequently Asked Questions

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Question: How do you compensate for differences in gravity and atmospheric density between Earth and Mars when testing FIDO on Earth?

Answer: FIDO was designed to run only on Earth as a prototype, so it's not necessary. However, rovers that are built for Mars need to be tested keeping gravity and atmospheric density issues in mind. For example, although air is less dense on Mars than on Earth, there are high winds, so engineers pay special attention to how the rover's arm holds up under windy conditions here on Earth.

Question: Why are rovers tested in the desert?

Answer: The terrain in the Mohave Desert is similar to that on Mars. Deserts, like Mars, have windblown sand and dust particles and exposed rock surfaces (and very few plants to get in the way). The rovers are tested in Mars-like terrains to learn how to do complex operations on Earth before tying them on Mars.

Question: Why is Mars exploration important?

Answer: Mars is perhaps the planet most like Earth in terms of having dramatic shifts in climate in the past. Understanding paleoclimactic changes on Mars can help us understand climates on Earth as well as on planets in general. It is quite possible, as well, that Mars at one point harbored some form of life, which probably developed in hydrothermal systems. Finding and characterizing this past life would be an extraordinary help in understanding life on Earth.

Question: How do you get to study Mars?

Answer: It takes a large group of people with diverse backgrounds and abilities to run a Mars mission. Planetary scientists, geologists, engineers, mathematicians, educators, computer scientists, and others involved in science and technology are crucial not only for getting the rover to Mars, but for learning something about the planet and sharing the information with other people. Their commonality is an interest in science, Mars, and a desire to make the mission happen.

Question: Why are rovers good for exploring?

Answer: Rovers move around. That means that they can take samples, measurements, and images from more than one place (unlike a lander) and at a very close range. Scientists can decide what they want to look at or sample and usually the rover can get there.

Question: Will there ever be a human on Mars?

Answer: The Mars missions over the next ten years will provide valuable information about whether it will be necessary and possible for a human to go to Mars. Right now, very little is known about the potential hazards for human exploration (radiation, hazardous dusts and gases, etc). Rovers will provide information to help scienties and engineers decide if it is worthwhile and safe for humans to explore the red planet.

Question: Is FIDO going to Mars, too?

Answer: FIDO is only a prototype for the rover that will go to Mars in the next decade. It will only be tested on Earth, allowing scientists and engineers to learn how to gather information with this type of rover. They will be able to practice commanding the rover remotely (by computer) to drill and collect samples and return them to the lander for return to Earth. The Mars rover will be built like FIDO, but with improvements learned during testing.

Question: What happens to rovers on Mars after they finish their tasks?

Answer: After rovers finish their jobs, the signals from Earth will be cut off, and presumably they will stop working.

Question: What is done with the data that rovers collect?

Answer: The rovers send the information back to Earth either directly, or via an orbiter which sends it to computers on Earth. The data are then archived and can be used by scientists around the world to understand more about Mars and planetary exploration.

Question: How do I find out more about Mars exploration efforts?

Answer: Check out the Educational Materials on this site, JPL's Rover and Telerobotics page and the FIDO Science Server.

Question: How will students command the rover in the desert?

Answer: The students will command the rover using WITS (Web Interface for Telescience), the same commanding tool that the scientists and engineers will use both in the desert and when the rover is on Mars. With WITS, the students can send commands to the rover from the computers at their high schools.

Question: What is the purpose of the LAPIS Mission?

Answer: The LAPIS Mission is a prototype educational program designed to involve a group of students in forming an integrated mission team, allowing them to really understand how a mission works from start to finish. Hopefully, through their outreach, such as this web site, they can also help educate other students on the subject.

Question: Are there any restrictions placed on the student mission?

Answer: The students will only be using four of FIDO's instruments -- the Pancam, Navcam, Infrared Point Spectrometer, and Color Microscopic Imager due to time and engineering restrictions.

Question: How do the FIDO field tests affect the progress of Mars exploration?

Answer: The FIDO field tests allow scientists and engineers to test a prototype Mars rover. By testing the prototype, they can learn about changes and improvements that should be made before the actual mission, as well as practice communicating with the rover via WITS. These practice trials help actual rover exploration of Mars to run more smoothly and allow scientists and engineers to make the rover more efficient and useful.

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