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Wed, Mar 26, 2008

Rover Reprieve: NASA Keeps Funding Alive For Spirit, Opportunity

They Keep Going And Going... Too Long?

Let's face it: NASA never expected in its wildest dreams to be still be funding the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity... as they were originally designed to only last 90 days.

Yet here we are, four years on, and both rovers are still plugging away on the Red Planet... an all-too-rare example the government getting A LOT more than it paid for.
But like a hungry infant with a bottle, the rovers need to be nourished... in this case with cash, to keep their research efforts going strong.

According to The Associated Press, last week NASA -- looking to cut any fat it can from its budget -- sent a letter to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, asking the lab to put one of the rovers in hibernation, and limit the duties of the other.

Both actions would cut about $4 million combined from NASA's Mars budget, money the agency would rather have available towards its upcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission.

That request... understandable as it may be... was met with skepticism in the halls of JPL. Faced with scientific opposition to the plan, as well as an interesting PR dilemma -- the Mars rovers are among NASA's best-known programs to the general public, besides the shuttle and International Space Station -- on Tuesday NASA rescinded the letter.

"This letter was not coordinated with the administrator's office and is in the process of being rescinded," an agency statement reads. "The administrator has unequivocally stated that no rover will be turned off."

The move is a welcome, but likely temporary, reprieve for Spirit and Opportunity... as this issue may very well come up again in the future, as long as both rovers keep functioning. And while Spirit and Opportunity have been hobbled quite a bit by age... by the looks of things, their final days aren't on the visible horizon just yet.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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