March 25 2008

The Demise Of A Rover

Spirit RoverDue to a reduction in its budget,the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is having to find another $4 million USD to cut somewhere from their projects.

Now, call me insane, but I would think you would cut the funding from a project that isn’t working quite right, or one you haven’t even launched yet, not one that is proving far more successful than originally planned. That’s what they’re doing though by parking and deserting the Spirit Mars rover.

For those who don’t remember, Spirit was the first of two rovers we landed on Mars in early 2004. Both rovers were expected to operate for 90-days, but as of today’s date, Spirit is 1,413 days past its expiration date, and is still fully operational. True, it is currently parked for Martian winter, but that’s a scheduled outage, but we will not be “waking” it come the spring so we can save money. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) division of NASA runs Spirit and Opportunity, the second rover, and they plan to appeal the decision.

I wouldn’t be so boggled by this if we weren’t getting ready to launch another rover to Mars. As John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL, said in the above linked article, “Any cut at any time when these rovers are healthy would be bad timing. These rovers are still viable capable vehicles in very good health.” That’s the whole point to me, they’re working, leave them alone! What if Spirit sits too long and we can’t reboot it down the road? Mothball the probe we haven’t launched yet, and work Spirit and Opportunity into the ground. This like throwing away a perfectly good car for… well… no good reason. To me, shutting down the working rovers is worse than having a budget over run.

Really, I do not understand the logic behind this at all. Hopefully the JPL will get somewhere with their appeal, but since it’s the government, I’m not holding my breath. If this has to be the end of Spirit, no one can say it didn’t have a spectacular run.

UPDATED: Who knows what the real story is, but they aren’t shutting Spirit down.  Yay!

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