Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Save the Mars rovers!

An artist's concept of the rover on the Martian surface. Image from NASA/JPL.

Due to budget cuts, one of NASA's Mars rovers might be shut down:
Scientists plan to put one of the twin Mars rovers to sleep and limit the activities of the other robot to fulfill a NASA order to cut $4 million from the program's budget, mission team members said Monday.

The news comes amid belt-tightening at NASA headquarters, which is under pressure to cover cost overruns of a flagship Mars mission to land a Hummer-sized rover on the Red Planet next year.

The solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity have dazzled scientists and the public with findings of geologic evidence that water once flowed at or near the surface of Mars long ago.

Both rovers were originally planned for three-month missions at a cost of $820 million, but are now in their fourth year of exploration. It costs NASA about $20 million annually to keep the rovers running.

This seems like a colossally stupid idea. The major expenses of the program have already been spent, and the major risks (launch, landing on the surface without crashing) have been passed. To be able to tool around the surface of Mars for $20 million a year is a frickin' bargain. Certainly better value for our science dollar than the International Space Station. Hullabaloo's tristero sees this as more Bush administration stupidity:
To shut them off in order to save such a small chunk of change is simply criminal. And it reminds us that the Bush administration goes much further than not caring about competence, expertise, or excellence. They feel compelled to crush it.

2 Comments:

OpenID jdm314 said...

Do you know if is correct? Namely that every hour in Iraq effectively costs us $11 million? I know the war is important, but I think maybe we can spare two of those.

11:17 AM, March 25, 2008  
Blogger ncdave4life said...

Two thoughts...

1) This announced rover shutdown/slowdown was rescinded, almost immediately after it was announced.

2) Contrary to what some people believe, not everything bad in the world is the fault of G.W. Bush. Sometimes other people make decisions, too, believe it or not. I don't think that even Jimmy Carter micromanaged the federal government to the extent that you apparently think Bush does.

To me, this whole Mars rover shutdown/slowdown affair sounds like someone is playing internal hardball politics at NASA and/or JPL, as they squabble amongst themselves for pieces of the space budget.

I'm confident that it didn't come from the Bush Administration. Bush is very willing (some would say too willing) to spend money for worthwhile purposes, and he's a big fan of the space program.

Another worthwhile cause that is getting lots of taxpayer money thanks to Bush is PEPFAR. Did you know that President Bush's PEPFAR initiative has prevented the transmission of HIV to nearly 1.5 million children from their HIV+ mothers, in 15 African countries? Sen. Jesse Helms led this humanitarian crusade, when he was in Congress. After Helms retired, President Bush took the baton, and he's made it a personal crusade throughout his presidency. It has probably saved more lives than any non-military foreign aid program in history -- perhaps more than all of them put together.

Dave

7:24 AM, March 26, 2008  

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