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March 24, 2008

Budget woes at NASA to impact Mars Rovers

Posted: 05:56 PM ET

NASA officials have directed the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program to cut $4 million dollars from its $approximately 20 million dollar budget this year, and principal investigator Steve Squyres tells CNN that will likely mean science operations will have to be suspended for Spirit. The rover would be put in hibernation mode, and if all goes well it could be reactivated in the future in the event funding is restored.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

NASA Headquarters spokesman Dwayne Brown confirmed the budget directive has been issued. He said the reason behind the cut is to offset cost overruns with the Mars Science Laboratory, a follow-on rover set to launch next year.

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 from each other. Both were designed for 90 day missions, but are still operating more than four years later. Designed to be robotic geologists, the two rovers have examined Martian rocks and soil, looking for tell-tell signs of water. Opportunity hit “pay dirt” when it found evidence that salty sea once stood on 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 says the money will mean job cuts in the staff of about 300 scientists that operate the rovers and analyze the science findings. Those staff reductions likely will mean that they have to suspend science operations for one of the rovers, and Spirit is the likely candidate because it is currently riding out the Martian winter in a parked position.

Squyres says he and his team will put together and issue a plan to NASA officials before they do anything, so it is unclear exactly unclear when Spirit's science operations will be shut down. But he says he has been told to expect a $8 million budget cut in fiscal year 2009 funding.

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Mars • NASA • Space

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Shock n Awe   March 24th, 2008 6:19 pm ET

Well, just another short sighted plan of our government. Perhaps if we said the rovers were diggin for oil (or Osama) the government would be more inclined to continue the program.

David Lamb   March 24th, 2008 6:20 pm ET

$4 m. And how much is the U.S. spending per day in Iraq? This is very telling of a country that has its priorities screwed up.

fred crocker - massachusetts   March 24th, 2008 6:22 pm ET

yeah 4 million can fund a lot of bombs to kill people, another short sighted decision by the people in Washington. Lets all imagine what the rover could have found over that next rise that it will never go over.

Eh   March 24th, 2008 6:26 pm ET

Why has CNN stopped covering the Stephenville & Dublin Texas UFO sightings? The Air Force is lying, and it seems like CNN has bought into their lies. Mars is interesting, but we've got signs right here on Earth that we might not be alone in the Universe if you would look into them more often...

doug   March 24th, 2008 6:27 pm ET

Just another example of science being cut to fund Bush's programs in the Middle East and elsewhere. When he told us to expect a shuttle replacement and man on Mars did any of us really believe that? Bet not!

Now it's time to find a way to fund these projects or continue to be left behind in the world of space exploration. Someday man will walk on Mars and return to the Moon, chances are it will not be carrying Stars and Stripes unless things change.

Mark   March 24th, 2008 6:27 pm ET

We can spend $10,000,000,000 a week in Iraq for over 5 years but we can't afford $8 Million to keep an $800 Million project going? How sad; I hope our next president has more sense than our current one.

Brian Smith   March 24th, 2008 6:28 pm ET

They should get some commercial money going. Couldn't it be called the Pepsi rover.

How much would you contribute if they spelled your name in the Martian dust with their tracks.

Both of these ideas would be much better than finding a good parking space and calling it a day. There's probably tons of good parking there though.


Brian Smith
Averill Park, NY

jim collins   March 24th, 2008 6:29 pm ET

Tragic news, another casualty of the Iraq war, it will impact one of our greatest feats in space exploration.

kevin   March 24th, 2008 6:32 pm ET

we can not allow this to happen. I think we should give up one airplane in the miltary which would more than pay for the rovers to keep working. We most not cut our own throughts by cutting nasa.

Jeff Lind   March 24th, 2008 6:32 pm ET

Let me get this straight: 800 Million spent to build and send these 2 Rovers to Mars for 90 days. 4 years later both are still working and sending back data: Priceless.
So, what do we do? Cut a paltry 4 million dollars from the budget, so we stop using a valuable piece of equipment that cost 400 Million.
Both rovers need to be kept up and running, looking for intelligent life, because obviously there isn't any on this planet.....

kevin   March 24th, 2008 6:33 pm ET

we can not allow this to happen. I think we should give up one airplane in the miltary which would more than pay for the rovers to keep working. We most not cut our own throats by cutting nasa.

David from Las Vegas   March 24th, 2008 6:33 pm ET

It would be a shame to shut down such a productive program which has functioned well beyond the original expectations. Maybe if we weren't wasting so much money in Iraq we could continue this program and many other programs. Another reason to throw all of the politician who support the war out in November!

Infonaut   March 24th, 2008 6:33 pm ET

Makes sense.

The president says we are going back to the moon and then on to mars, but this is the reality.

The shuttle program is winding down with 11 more launched to go. There is no replacement in sight or in budget. Now cut funding and science from our existing Mars rovers.

Our astronauts will be hitching rides to the ISS in ancient Russian rockets .. remember when NASA was something to be proud of?

Gene   March 24th, 2008 6:35 pm ET

I'm as big a fan of the program as the next guy, but could someone tell me why it costs $54, 795 A DAY to send ,receive and analyze radio signals? I mean, iif we had to keep the dang things in gasolene, that would be one thing....

Robert   March 24th, 2008 6:35 pm ET

Isn't our government already in hibernation mode?

jeff from TN   March 24th, 2008 6:37 pm ET

Nothing that the Bush administration does surprises me anymore. I was inspired to go into a career in science/engineering when Apollo 11 landed on the moon on my 7th birthday, and Viking 1 landed on Mars on my 14th. After GW gets done with NASA, we'll have to outsource space exploration to India, to inspire their children to succeed, while our own don't forsee a future equal to or better than their parents. Unfortunately, the fallout from this (lack of science/engineering graduates) is far enough in the future that the causality will be lost. George Bush is the anti-Midas...everything he touches turns into tin.

guest   March 24th, 2008 6:39 pm ET

This is truly a shame. Those who operate these rovers have found a way to operate TWO rovers on the surface of another planet for only $20 million per year. But now budgets have been cut so deeply that $4 million less will result in fewer jobs and loss of science data.

$4 million?! The war on Iraq costs taxpayers $341 million per DAY, and you're telling me the gov't can't find $4 million to extend the life of these rovers and provide jobs to our nation's finest scientists and engineers!?

I am appalled.

Space Ghost   March 24th, 2008 6:40 pm ET

Couldn't they cut funding for something a little less awesome?

bark, bugs, leaves, and lizards :: Opportunity But No Spirit   March 24th, 2008 6:41 pm ET

[...] CNN: 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 from each other. Both were designed for 90 day missions, but are still operating more than four years later. Designed to be robotic geologists, the two rovers have examined Martian rocks and soil, looking for tell-tell signs of water. Opportunity hit “pay dirt” when it found evidence that salty sea once stood on 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. [...]

Lars, Sun City West, AZ   March 24th, 2008 6:43 pm ET

Sure, let's cut a small amount of spending to advance human knowledge but burn tons of money killing people in Iraq. Maybe humans shouldn't colonize space...

Bill Ames   March 24th, 2008 6:46 pm ET

Since NASA wants to kill Spirit then whichever party steps forward to save her will gain support from the voting public. I hope NASA does not do this so we can leave Spirit out of the politics of the land and let Spirit do her thing as long as she can.

Bill Ames

Vance High   March 24th, 2008 6:46 pm ET

Truely a remarkable exchange for the funding invested. Now, that funding is too be tabled, a rover should not be put into hibernation. NASA rung more out of this program than anyone could hope. Our president can only juggle so many wars at once. His house of cards is falling faster than he can reassemble them!

marius dot org » Grrr, NASA   March 24th, 2008 7:48 pm ET

[...] reports that NASA is cutting back the Mars Rovers' team budget, which will likely result in Spirit [...]

Franko   March 24th, 2008 11:45 pm ET

Sell it on Ebay, before the Rover dies.
Someone might have good use for it.

Charlie C   March 25th, 2008 12:00 am ET

I'd wonder if NASA would consider a paypal page for donations. It sounds like there's enough time to potentially have collections over a given time period and still allow them to plan based on whatever they get. I know I'd for one chip in a few bucks...

Kelly   March 25th, 2008 12:00 am ET

Can't any of you idiots read? NASA went over budget on another project and has to pull the money from somewhere. It sounds to me like this is NASA's choice not something the Administration is making them do. Besides, Congress passes funding legislation not the Administration. What about bunch of fools.

Steve   March 25th, 2008 12:28 am ET


One reason why it costs so much is that the long, long, LONG distance charges are a killer.

Seriously, though, between maintenance on the equipment needed to send signals to and receive signals from the rovers, operating costs for the equipment to analyze those signals, the salaries of the scientists who perform that analysis, and the cost of the storage media for the raw and analyzed data, $50,000 a day doesn't sound that unreasonable. That's about the same annual cost as the salary for a few hundred scientists.

alabandit   March 25th, 2008 7:08 am ET

open source it spirit... let the scientist who care, find funding for them selves to analyse the data... you know under the agreement that they will share it... rather than ignoring a bunch of now half used satellites and an awesome piece of equipment...

J. L. Lee   March 25th, 2008 7:13 am ET

Why does this not surprise me. Indeed! ...This is the country that put a low grade corporate puppet moron scumbag in the Whitehouse after all.

oldcyberdude   March 25th, 2008 8:25 am ET

The basis for supplemental budgets for the war in Iraq has been that we can't predict the future course of a war and thus can't make long term budget projects in a normal FYDP manner. Thus, by using a more dynamic supplemental budget process we can respond to changing situations. Whether you agree with the Iraq war or how the supplemental process is being used, there is a certain level of fundamentally valid logic to the argument.

Now let's turn to NASA. Here's my premise; NASA planned for a 90 day MARS rover exploration program and engineered the rover for this goal. NASA couldn't have predicted how successful the rovers would be (4+ years), thus they should be consider part of a supplemental budget. Thus, NASA can continue with their long term projects with stable funding AND keep the unpredictably success rover program moving forward!

Let's hear it for supplementals..... at least for NASA!

RoPiNi   March 25th, 2008 12:16 pm ET

One more "life" lost to a foolish war.

My Martian Brethrn Are Being Abandoned « Robot Pirate Ninja   March 25th, 2008 12:17 pm ET

[...] My Martian Brethrn Are Being Abandoned SciTechBlog: Blog Archive – Budget woes at NASA to impact Mars Rovers « – Blogs from [...]

Astronomy Cast - Mars Rovers To Loose Large Portion of Funding   March 25th, 2008 12:48 pm ET

[...]   Sadly I must report that it appears the Mars Rovers will lose nearly 4 million dollars from its 20 million dollar budget.  Next year they are expected to take a further cut of nearly 8 millions dollars.  Worse off the funding cuts are likely to place Spirit on hibernation and job cuts of nearly 300 scientists until funding reappears. As you may know the rovers have been an amazing success.  Originally designed for 90 missions they are still scooting along nearly 4 years later, and have made many discoveries including evidence of a salted sea on Mars.   For the full story please visit CNN's report. [...]

Bob Braunstein   March 25th, 2008 1:29 pm ET

Here's a better idea, NASA. Since you no longer find Spirit worth enough to invest another $4M/year to keep running, maybe you ought to offer it to which ever other country on this planet might want a space program. I'm sure the status associated with running a robotic space probe on Mars would fetch much more than $4M/year and so you could actually run a profit, or at least help pay for the Mars Space Laboratory overrun.

Chad   March 25th, 2008 1:36 pm ET

For the "Woe is us, we're spending money on a war" defeatists, consider:

Per day cost of:

The $4 million cut from the rovers: ~$11,000
The Iraq war supplemental funding: ~$460,000,000
Interest on national debt: ~$660,000,000
The standing defense budget: ~$1,500,000,000
Medicare/Social Security: ~$4,300,000,000

Not saying we couldn't find a better option for the money, I'm just saying your an order of magnitude below the real problem.

scoop   March 25th, 2008 3:13 pm ET

News Update: HQ just passed word that the budget would not be cut after all, because "killing a cheap rover to give money to a not-yet-flown rover is a bad idea"

A few words on NASA-ese « IFOV   March 25th, 2008 3:17 pm ET

[...] on the one hand, you've got the MER mission's principal investigator (PI) saying that if he's to absorb $4M in cuts to his mission (and $8M next year), he's going to [...]

Pan   March 25th, 2008 3:19 pm ET


NASA gets 1% of the National budget while the DOD gets 30%.

Robert   March 25th, 2008 3:37 pm ET

Remember guns/butter economis? Well, Bushkie chose guns.

A few words on NASA-ese « IFOV   March 25th, 2008 3:45 pm ET

[...] Laboratory lander, scheduled to launch next year.Yesterday, on the one hand, you've got the MER mission's principal investigator (PI) saying that if he's to absorb $4M in cuts to his mission (and $8M next year), he's going to [...]

Government Not To Blame   March 25th, 2008 3:53 pm ET

Um, NASA is not a government agency, its a private entity. Now granted it gets a lot of its funding from the US military and other government groups, but its decision to kill the funding was its own, not the US government.

Wiki   March 25th, 2008 3:57 pm ET

Yea, its true that the government runs both the military and nasa, but the mission was only supposed to last a few months, so its amazing that nasa still has funding for the rovers at all. Its also amazing that the rovers still works, they must have not use Chinese capacitors in them

Wiki   March 25th, 2008 3:59 pm ET

Then again we were supposed to be in and out quick and get the ones responsible for 9-11 real I think the should maybe kill off that funding now and come on home

Wiki   March 25th, 2008 4:00 pm ET

Awaiting for moderation...whaaa, free speech people! 🙂

ktobin   March 25th, 2008 4:24 pm ET

For the record, NASA is a federal agency - with a budget of approx. 17 billion dollars this year.

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

cozumelkid   March 25th, 2008 5:39 pm ET

Well, I guess one mans illegitimate war can kill legitimate scientific research that could serve the many.

Anonymous Poster   March 26th, 2008 5:48 am ET

Am I the only one that noticed that the "journalist" that hacked together this piece doesn't know that the correct word is "telltale", and that "telltell" ISN'T a word at all?

Cunuk   March 26th, 2008 9:46 am ET

For comparison, the US government is spending about $4 million per HOUR on the war in Iraq. Knowledge of Mars might come in handy when we finally make the earth uninhabitable.

Steve Morris   March 27th, 2008 1:26 pm ET

Interesting politics in NASA headquarters. The Mars Science Lander overruns by $200 million NASA decides to cut the MER rovers by 20%, yet the James Webb Space Telescope goes from a $1 Billion mission to a $4.5 Billion (or is it $5 Billion now) and funding for Hubble doesn't get cut.

Pieter Westbroek   March 28th, 2008 1:22 am ET

As with most of you I find it appalling that a war can be funded yet scientific progress is blacklisted.

Although a Canadian, I pray that the next government has a bit more forward thinking sense...

Oh and are right...humans cannot impact the environment...those chunks breaking off the antarctic are nothing to worry about...

Mr. Spock   March 28th, 2008 4:06 am ET

I think we're all in agreement, Spirit and Opportunity live on! Live long and prosper! Mars...Our new hope for the future of Earth.

Brooks   April 6th, 2008 2:31 pm ET

Why not turn scientific operations over to a university?

I am sure there are plenty of qualified scientists/students who would love to take over the mission for free.

xprdq   September 28th, 2008 10:43 pm ET

Let's say dreams beyond our wildest occur ...

Next week a rover goes over the next hill and discovers a Martian slug crawling alongside a small swamp with simple plant life.

The week after that, the other rover crests a hill and discovers the fountain of youth.

Ten years later, how will either of those discoveries have helped any of us here on Earth? I'm looking for something more concrete than a "we'll be enriched by the knowledge that they exist" answer which is really a Star Trek fan, "life on Mars is cool" answer.

Seriously; How will we benefit from the knowledge of life and/or water on Mars in practical terms. Some way that the average Joe Taxpayer can look at it and say "My life sure is better now that they've found life on Mars."

p.s. This is not a forum to debate for or against the war in Iraq. If you're going to avoid answering the question by making some stupid "well, they spend more in Iraq and that doesn't help us either" statement, don't bother. People like that (you see them in previous posts) are, in my opinion, just admitting that they don't have a good answer and so they're pointing a finger elsewhere to avoid answering the question. I'm sure there are other blogs about the Iraq related costs/budget. Go make an argument against the war there and I'll be happy to hear your opinion. (I may even agree with you.) Just Please stop diluting this topic.

marscloseup   July 11th, 2010 6:52 pm ET

The frugality and effectiveness of continuing the MER program with the remaining rover has show the $$ benefits of long term in-place equipment on any planetary body. The MSL has been delayed and refitted with the best newer devices, and, while the Opportunity rovers Micro Camera now gives a degraded quality of image and fewer of them, we still have a growing catalog of the Meridiani region for basic study.
An answer to 'xprdq' just prior is that the newer battery techniques borrowed from military research are now flight proven for cold weather multi-year use, and are well established as no longer an 'Earth bound' technology, one of the many rover parts given a battle tested status with these two MER rovers.
A hundred years of rovers could traverse the solar system on the balance sheet costs of the several years of 'illegal' wars being waged against other cultures or groups.
Constructive science is the best investment, even of war research technology items, such as the rover type batteries.

james   January 13th, 2011 4:45 pm ET

this is clearly a jewish conspiracy   April 19th, 2011 6:55 pm ET

Budget woes at nasa to impact mars rovers.. Nifty 🙂

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