Last week it looked like Spirit, one of two remote controlled NASA rovers currently exploring Mars, might not make it out of its winter hibernation. The worst part of this robotic near death experience is that it had nothing to do with technical difficulties on the aging rover. Budget cuts at NASA were to blame. Fortunately, NASA rescinded the letter it sent last week mandating budget cuts that would have abandoned Spirit and greatly reduced Opportunity’s (Spirit’s sister rover) exploration of the red planet. Both rovers have long outlasted their intended lifespan of only a few months, sending back valuable scientific data for 4 years. Gimping the rover program at this point would have been an incredibly stupid move. Especially when considering the cost of sending another rover to Mars (one of the reasons for the budget cut) when you have two healthy robots already in place whose yearly operating budget is fractional in comparison. I would hope that NASA came to this conclusion on its own, but I feel that it is more likely that outcry over the incident from the scientific community and the general public caused NASA to reconsider giving Spirit its walking papers just yet. While the loss of an incredible scientific tool is nothing to scoff about, this incident puts a light on a much larger issue: How the US government allocates it’s citizen’s tax dollars.
On March 25, 2008
By John D