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March 25, 2008

Spirit lives! Budget cuts won't stop this rover in its tracks

Posted: 01:02 PM ET

Budget woes won't force NASA to shut down one of two Mars rovers operating on the red planet, an agency spokesman told CNN Tuesday, a day after one of the program's team leaders said an ordered budget cut could end the rover Spirit's tour of duty.

Spirit Self-Portrait. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Mars Exploration Rover program principal investigator Steve Squyres told CNN Monday that the program had received a directive to cut $4 million out of it's 2008 budget, and that would mean his team would have no choice but to shut down one of the rovers.

But now NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs says that directive is being withdrawn.

"A letter was sent directing reductions in several areas of the Mars exploration program. However, this letter was not coordinated with the Office of Administrator and is in the process of being rescinded. Administrator Michael Griffin has unequivocally stated that no rover will be shut down."

Squyres had said cutting 20 percent of the program's $20 million budget would likely force mission managers to put the "Spirit" rover into hibernation mode.

The cut's purpose was to offset cost overruns with the Mars Science Laboratory, a rover set to launch next year, NASA headquarters spokesman Dwayne Brown said Monday.

NASA spent $800 million to build and launch Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, to Mars. They landed about 3 weeks apart in January 2004, on opposite sides of the planet. Both were designed for 90-day missions but remain in operation more than four years later.

These robotic geologists have examined Martian rocks and soil, looking for tell-tale signs of water. They have provided detailed photographs of the planet's barren surface and large amounts of data on the it's make-up.

Opportunity hit pay dirt when it found evidence that a salty sea once stood in the area that is now called Meridiani Planum. Spirit has roamed miles from its landing site and climbed high into the Columbia Hills inside an area called the Gusev Crater.

Squyres indicated a budget reduction of size initially ordered would require job cuts in the staff of about 300 scientists that operate the rovers and analyze the findings. Those staff cuts, in turn, would mean science operations for one of the rovers would have to be suspended, and Spirit would have been the likely candidate because it is currently riding out the Martian winter in a parked position.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Mars • NASA • Space


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Richard   March 25th, 2008 1:44 pm ET

Great news! It would have been a tragedy to pull one of the Mars rovers out of action after the amazing work they've done over the last few years. Why cut funding for a mission that's already doing great and then pay from scratch for another rover to go up and do what Spirit and Opportunity have been doing? It was a rubbish idea.

I find it a bit worrying that a government who can afford a war running into trillions of dollars in Iraq that has had very few positive impacts cannot afford $4 million for a mission that has captivated the public's interest in Mars. It's going to be essential to pay for the rovers if we really are going to men on Mars by 2030.

Richard
http://blogearth.wordpress.com/


Sam Bandak   March 25th, 2008 2:49 pm ET

NASA,

Please wake up and smell the roses. Start advertising on MARS and make millions. Get sponsers like IBM. Write the word IBM on Mars using the rover tracks. Take a picture of it and IBM probably will pay more than 3 million dollars for that. The cost of a 30 second ad during superbowl is about 2 million. Such an ad should be valued at over 4 million.

Sam


Discovered on Mars: Salt that could pinpoint location of life « exploring our world   March 25th, 2008 3:31 pm ET

[...] I'm writing about Mars, here's some disturbing news: NASA has just announced it is cutting funding to the amazing Spirit and Opportunity probes by 20%. As you can see by clicking here and here, these two rovers have been among the best ever sent to [...]


Armando   March 25th, 2008 4:38 pm ET

These rovers have done a fantastic job and outlasted the most optimistic hopes for their longevity. NASA has done all the science they expected to do with the rovers. It may be time to rent out one of the rovers to raise money for the entire program. NASA would benefit financially and this would give other countries a chance to try new ideas on the red planet. Lets give someone else a chance to drive on Mars (for a price!)

Armando


Larry Sessions   March 25th, 2008 5:42 pm ET

If you are looking for evidence for a God of Reason, here it is. He has helped the reasonable factions at NASA strike a blow against the insanity of the little (and I use it in lowercase intentially) emperor, George W. Bush. Now, let get back to research and gaining knowledge over personal gain and political prestige.


Target practice   March 25th, 2008 6:10 pm ET

Why do we need two? Use the money to build something to land on another planet. Now that we know how to make a Great Rover, let's mass produce and send one somewhere else. The one we don't need on Mars...use it in a more risky way or see if we can spot a laser on it like China did with our satelite.


Vance High   March 25th, 2008 8:05 pm ET

Yeah....


A few words on NASA-ese « IFOV   March 25th, 2008 10:12 pm ET

[...] today the story has changed. NASA's Administrator apparently was unaware of the directive that came from within the [...]


Ben   March 25th, 2008 10:55 pm ET

Target practice March 25th, 2008 6:10 pm ET

Why do we need two? Use the money to build something to land on another planet. Now that we know how to make a Great Rover, let’s mass produce and send one somewhere else. The one we don’t need on Mars…use it in a more risky way or see if we can spot a laser on it like China did with our satelite.

I know you probably don't care about scientific exploration, but Spirit & Opportunity and other Mars spacecraft have given us a view of Mars like never before and for dirt cheap compared to human exploration. 20 million is nothing compared to what a manned mission to Mars would cost. Which is projected to be 120 billion dollars and up, I'm betting much more than 120 billion. Not only do they cost cheaper, they've both been like the energizer bunny going and going long past its original due-date.

I say we let them operate until their last breath so to speak, or at least until the Mars Science Laboratory is firmly on Mars. Then and only then would it be prudent to consider kill either or both rovers. That being said, I say we get our money worth out of them until then. I mean geeze, we all know after 2010 the manned program will be priority one which means the JPL isn't going to nearly get the support they've been getting or the funding they've been getting in the last couple of years.

So I say we let us puny earthlings learn more of our solar system. Oh wait, half you rather just turn NASA into a capitalistic business. -_- Bah. Does scientific learning just to learn more about our solar system suck so much? I mean are our petty lives, and do our selfish needs matter that much more? Bah, no wonder I'm a cynic.


Doug Mitchell   March 26th, 2008 7:05 am ET

Very few things have excited my mind over the last half century, but both of the mars rovers have kept me on the edge of my seat. Thihk ahead 200 years, what will this information have provided? What will the technology to get both rovers onto mars and operate, do for the services of mankind in the future? Not a waste of my tax dollars and neither was Hubble. I enthrol at the sights and clammer for more? If one chooses to save money, then stop the concept of going back to the moon, been there done that, move forward now using someone's imortal words "go where no man has gone before", much the way the rovers have proven it can be done.


CAFE & Other Topic Roundup « Weatherdem’s Weblog   March 27th, 2008 2:01 am ET

[...] rover Spirit on Mars has been given a reprieve: previously announced budget cuts may not affect the operations. [...]


....   March 27th, 2008 7:35 pm ET

This is so dumb, all of the families and people that are struggling in our country and around the world, and we are more worried searching a planet that we will never be able to inhabit or do anything with... Wow 800$ Million to put them in flight and who knows how much ever since then, what a waste of money...


Mr. Spock   March 28th, 2008 3:48 am ET

I think that what the rovers represent is the durabilty of great engineering. These little guys have far outlived their intended lives! It is also representative of our desire for knowledge in the Solar System, understanding what has happened and what might happen. We know an awful lot about Mars now thanks to these two. And we will continue to learn more about the Red Planet, our best hope for inter-planetary colonization. We still have gaps in our knowledge of our Solar neighborhood though, namely the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Uranus, and Neptune. I think NASA should consider an Ultra High Defintion mission to the Ice Giants Uranus and Neptune, to study what Voyager 2 could only glimpse at. I propose a split orbiter, one half to fall into Uranian orbit, the other to continue on to Neptune. With the success we have had with MRO, Spirit, Opportunity, Venus Express, Pathfinder, and Cassini, I think we should look forward to an Ice Giant mission.


SR   April 4th, 2008 10:05 pm ET

Quit trying to put men in space until the technology improves, and direct the limited budget to sending machines instead. There is no need to rush people when we can explore far more by using machines.


Renting   April 5th, 2008 2:52 pm ET

Humm...the rovers on mars are the best that could have happened on the 20th century but what about spirit self portrait?? I do believe that there is something wrong with that picture..if the rover was taken shots of itself from the top, where is the blind field where the camera is?? It should have been right in the middle of the picture..an area where the camera could not see. Unfortunately I think that picture was fixed. Am I right? what is your opinion?


Mr. Spock   April 7th, 2008 8:08 pm ET

SR, absolutely correct with your argument, I concur. We can explore so much more, and cheaper and more efficiently with machines. Humans are far too fragile for space travel, and because of robotics, computers, HD cameras, and antenna arrays, we can see just about anything we want to in our Solar System. Probes are the way to go.


maddie   October 25th, 2008 10:29 pm ET

are the rovers and machines polluting anything on mars?


maddie   October 25th, 2008 10:30 pm ET

can anyone help me with that question about polluting i need it for my assignment and cant really find info anywhere


Navman   November 15th, 2008 11:48 am ET

While I see the awesomeness in the accomplishment of our space program, I believe that the greatest threat to our country is energy independence, and that the greatest threat to our world is overpopulation. I think that if we were to accept a Kennedy-esque challenge and have the people who can figure out ways to land on Mars address our energy problem, we could have complete green energy independence in the US inside five years. Once that is need is met then I think that the citizenry of the US could once again be rallied around the goals of our Space program. Without energy independence, our country stands beside an abyss without comparison. As we recently experienced, the ability of carbon fuel suppliers to crush our economy, especially when linked to the unabashed greed embraced by the Gordon Gecko worshippers on Wall St. I think that our country should redirect our scientific community toward providing us with a civilian and military effort that is both green and independent of fossil fuels.


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