(Image credit: NASA)
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.
However, because of budget cuts one of the rovers, likely Spirit, will be reduced to idling in hibernation mode, and some scientists will do the same, or at least lose their jobs.
The cuts must be severe, eh? Not really. Only $4 million this year, maybe $8 million next year. That’s less than, say, the catcher of the Oakland Athletics, Jason Kendall, makes in a single baseball season (he’s making $13.43 million in 2008 and batting .242–and no, I’m not a big baseball fan, I just Googled it). We’re talking about a nearly billion dollar investment on another planet! Couldn’t someone earmark this one in?
Update: My blog post has obviously saved Spirit from the proposed budget cuts. WaPo:
That was before NASA Administrator Michael Griffin learned of the plan. NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said yesterday that Griffin was surprised to learn that the rover mission had been targeted for drastic cutback, and that he opposed the idea.
“Closing down either of the rovers is not on the table,” Brown quoted Griffin as saying Monday night. Then yesterday NASA released a statement that said: “This letter was not coordinated with the administrator’s office and is in the process of being rescinded. The administrator has unequivocally stated that no rover will be turned off.”