Give Us What We Want or We'll Shoot The Cute Little Rover

NASA cut means no roving for Mars rover, AP

"Scientists plan to put one of the twin Mars rovers to sleep and limit the activities of the other robot to fulfill a NASA order to cut $4 million from the program's budget, mission team members said Monday."

Mixed signals from NASA about fate of Mars rover, CNN

"There is a process that has to be followed for any mission to be canceled and the cancellation of the Mars Exploration Rovers is not under consideration," Jacobs said. "There is an ongoing budget review within the agency's Mars exploration program. However, shutting down of one of the rovers is not an option."

Editor's note: JPL is spinning this as if Spirit is being put to death as an innocent victim. It is already in hibernation for the winter and will stay that way for quite some time. Even if it was fully active its ability to do meaningful science is all but at an end - and its useful lifetime has vastly exceeded everyone's wildest expectations. [note: I will admit that I was a little harsh on Spirit's lack of usefulness. It is just sad that JPL is holding it hostage in order to make its political points]

Meanwhile, yet another outrageous cost overrun on MSL due to JPL's bad management has forced NASA to cough up $200 million in an attempt to fix things. If keeping a hobbled rover, as spunky and adorable as it is, alive is that important you'd think that JPL could find a way to work that $4 million out of the $200 million they have all but extorted from NASA HQ.

Moreover, given that they screwed up, you'd think they'd dip into the fee (i.e. their profit) that they get from their contract to NASA. But no, JPL only knows how to stick their hand out - and not into their own pocket.

That said, the rovers are still an astonishing investment that can be capitalized on for mere peanuts - its just a shame that JPL has let the situation stoop to this new low and allows the rovers to be held hostage.

Some folks mumble behind the scenes that HQ forced JPL into the situation it now finds itself in. All I can offer is to ask what this says about JPL's ability to understand the real cost of its programs. Moreover, it speaks volumes as to the lengths JPL will go to get missions including looking the other way when they know that the numbers don't add up.

Stay tuned. I am certain that Lou Friedman and the Planetary Society will soon sound off on Pasadena-centric Mars politics once again.

Comments? Send them to Your comments thus far:

Hi Keith, I have to disagree, you are wrong about your assessment of Spirit. "Even if it was fully active its ability to do meaningful science is all but at an end...". There is still plenty of meaningful science left in Spirit and for Spirit to do! We are currently parked on Home Plate for the winter season, by the way we did this same type of thing last martian winter. In this stationary mode we are/were still able to conduct useful and meaningful geologic and atmospheric investigations. As for your comment if it was 'fully active' if by that you mean that if we were driving Spirit then you are wrong yet again on this. We have many exciting and important targets awaiting us to the south of Home Plate (von Braun, Goddard, The Promised Land, search for more silica rich deposits) and I could go on. The geologic story here in the Inner Basin of the Columbia Hills is a very rich and complex one indeed, with a plethora of more meaningful scientific discoveries awaiting to be made!

In fact, Spirit's capabilities now -- except for the power situation, which varies with the seasons and will improve once spring comes -- are essentially identical to what they were 300 sols ago. And it was 300 sols ago that Spirit made the most important discovery of its mission to date... the very silica-rich deposits adjacent to Home Plate that point toward ancient hydrothermal activity in Gusev crater. So this rover is still very capable of doing science that is not just meaningful, but ground-breaking.

I am a career employee at JPL. Your web site has a substantial following here. I am often amazed at the information you find. Often times you post information about projects before we find out about it here.

I was wondering about your comment about the overruns on MSL. Extortion is a pretty strong word. Although JPL is the only place I have ever worked I have been involved in many projects run by other NASA centers. At the working level I am convinced JPL is very competitive value.

I have seen examples of projects other places that are struggling that it is pretty obvious to working engineers here that if JPL was running them would have been successful.

What are we doing that is so bad? What would we do to be a better value to the American public? These thought are my own as a private citizen and have nothing to do with JPL.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 25, 2008 9:00 AM.

What Happened to Kermit The Space Frog? was the previous entry in this blog.

NASA Spares Spunky Rovers From Heartless Budgeteers' Axe is the next entry in this blog.

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