Wed, Mar 26, 2008
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
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-- on Tuesday NASA rescinded the letter.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and is in the process of being rescinded," an agency statement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
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