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Rover gets a reprieve
March 26, 2008 - Bill Ackerbauer
Earlier this week, we ran a short item from the Associated Press saying NASA was poised to shut down one of its two exploratory rovers on the planet Mars. NASA said it would be necessary to allow for a budget-tightening move.
The space agency needs to save $4 million this year and $8 million next year, partly to pay for a new Mars mission in 2009 that is supposed to be even more ambitious. The plan is to send a larger rover the size of a sport-utility vehicle (a BIG one, not one of those dinky Ford Eclairs) to Mars at a cost of about $200 million.
Now, I am relieved to hear the leadership at NASA has changed its mind and will let both rovers continue their missions.
Spirit and Opportunity are a scrappy pair: When NASA plopped them down on the Red Planet's surface in 2004, the scientists hoped the solar-powered machines would continue to function at least three months. More than three years after their warranties expired, they're still rolling around, collecting data and connecting us to a world hundreds of millions of miles away. NASA has had a lot of tough luck in the last few years, so I'm glad they decided not to stop a mission that has not been a tragic, pyroclastic failure.
Are these Mars projects worth the hundreds of millions we spend on them? Considering we're spending more than $330 million per day on the war in Iraq -- or about $11 billion a month, with the total tab since the 2003 invasion topping half a trillion dollars -- I'd say it seems like a worthwhile investment. (I won't even get into the war's toll of human lives -- you've seen the headlines.)
The rovers did confirm that Mars once had water on its surface, which was a huge leap forward in the human race's knowledge of our neighboring planet.
I'm no scientist, however, so I can't quantify the value of all the information gleaned from the Mars rovers. You can see for yourself what they're up to, and decide for yourself whether it's worthwhile) at either of these Web sites:
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