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Mars Rovers Facing Budget Cuts [Updated] 327

Posted by kdawson
from the missed-opportunity dept.
BUL2294 notes a CNN article reporting that the Mars Rovers program at NASA is facing budget cuts of $4 million for this year and $8 million for fiscal 2009. This will mean job cuts; and in all likelihood Spirit will be put in "hibernation mode," to be reactivated when or if future funding becomes available."

Update: 03/29 20:02 GMT by KD : NASA has rescinded the memo to the JPL threatening budget cuts, and is now saying that no rovers will be shut down.
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Mars Rovers Facing Budget Cuts [Updated]

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  • Re:Sad day (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @07:47PM (#22851436)

    Billions wasted in Iraq and one of the most exciting programs since the Moon landing starts a slow death from budget cuts. Just plain sickening. We need a grass roots funding effort to save the Rovers since it looks like the second one will be cut next year.
    Yes. This Iraq War has hammered the US economy. Even if the US withdraws next year (hopefully) it will still be up to a decade before the US economy fully recovers like after the Vietnam War. Many important space projects are likely to be killed as a result since the NASA budget is not considered essential spending and is an easy target. It happened in the 1970s with the killing of the NERVA, Orion, and the Apollo followup programs. NASA is going to be hammered hard in the next decade as will many other optional government science programs.

    But what do you expect? Trillion dollar wars have to be paid for somehow. Bush and Cheney might have said that they'd just put it on the credit card and we'd never have to worry about it but that is simply not the case.
  • by kramer2718 (598033) on Monday March 24, 2008 @07:55PM (#22851524) Homepage
    I just called mine and told them to fund the rover.

    Get their info here [votesmart.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:00PM (#22851570)
    The current burn rate is over $100B (that would be 100 billion dollars) per year for the war in Iraq. Simple math shows that we could fund the Rover program for about what we're spending in 20 minutes in Iraq.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:11PM (#22851668)

    They should sell one of the rovers to any institution willing to pay for it rather than let it die a slow death of neglect. A deployed rover with a proven track record is better than an $800 million shot that might arrive and land successfully.

    The Planetary Society [planetary.org] immediately comes to mind as a serious buyer. They launched the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail [wikipedia.org] on an all-private budget of $4M. The mission failed due to hardware problem (hey, it really is rocket science), but it proved that private charitable organizations are quite capable of raising $4M for space exploration.

    The Planetary Society was also instrumental in getting the word out (and raising funds to rescue the data) regarding the Pioneer Anomaly [planetary.org].

    More important than the funding angle is the political one, but the Planetary Society has worked extremely closely with NASA over the past 30 years. The collaboration has been sufficiently close that they've actually flown hardware on the ill-fated) Mars Polar Lander [planetary.org]. The Society's work with NASA on Spirit and Opportunity goes all the way back to when the rovers were named [planetary.org] in the first place, as well as the calibration target" [nasa.gov] for the rovers' cameras.

    In other words, $4M isn't just a business possibility, the handover of a rover from NASA to the Planetary Society is a political possibility too.

  • Re:Sad day (Score:4, Informative)

    by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:18PM (#22851730) Journal

    Don't you love people who purposefully don't quote your stuff, then present arguments in an attempt to sidetrack you?

    Original statement by poster and my reply:

    Maybe it's just me but I'd rather see the quality of life improve for millions of people rather than look at another boring shot of a red rocky destitute landscape. I could just drive to Utah if I was that needy.
    Offshoots from the space program improve the lives of billions of people.

    Now notice the deception:

    Please explain to me how the mars rovers have improved the lives of billions of people.

    Never made that claim.

    However, I will be happy to demonstrate just one way that the space program (specifically remote sensing - you know, the stuff that the Mars Rovers are an extension of) has improved the lives of 6.5 billion people:

    Without decent remote sensing capabilities (spy satellites) allowing real-time verification, the cold war would have turned into a hot war. Glowing in the dark might be "cool", but it sucks when your half-life is cut down to hours.

    Remember - some of the shuttle missions were military spy satellites. These missions helped end the cold war, since the USSR couldn't keep spending at the same pace, and ultimately lost the "militarization of space race."

    Continuing to develop rovers into semi-autonomous or even autonomous vehicles would be one step towards workable von Neumann machines. There are lots of practical uses for a working von Neumann machine right here on earth

  • Re:Sad day (Score:2, Informative)

    by Minimalist360 (1258970) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:28PM (#22851798) Homepage
    Microwave ovens were an accidental discovery, and it was done at Raytheon. They were working on a radar project, and they had this discovery when microwaves melted a bar of chocolate in a guys pocket (and maybe cooked his nads, who knows?). Anyhow, that's why they were original called "Radaranges." I'm not certain how NASA was involved with this?
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:28PM (#22851808)
    We might still be screwed but certainly not to the extent that we are now. Estimates of what this war will end up costing - if it is ended soon with a complete withdrawal of US forces - are in the $3 Trillion dollar range. That used to be over half of our National debt.

    No more. The US National debt is now $9.4 Trillion. Our debt is increasing by $1.6 Billion dollars every single day. http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/ [brillig.com]

    The National debt was around $5 Trillion when Bush took office. As noted above, it's now approaching $10 Trillion. He has basically doubled it during his two terms. So, yeah, we would still be screwed without the war but we are especially screwed with it.

    And 4,000 Americans are really screwed - they're dead. And another 30-40,000 suffer from various levels of injuries up to missing limbs, missing eyes, missing parts of their brains, extreme disfigurement, etc.

    Any other comments are superfluous.
  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:29PM (#22851814) Homepage Journal

    *notes that the previous administration had budget surpluses*
    TEMPORARY budget surpluses. The yearly debt is built into programs that we are committed to. Occasionally we will have budget surplusses, but we still, as GP says, are screwed in the long run.
  • Re:Maybe Next Year? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:29PM (#22851818) Journal

    As someone above you pointed out, Bush is the president to enact a plan for getting men to Mars. Perhaps you need to actually look at budgets, because as someone else pointed out, NASA's budget has grown by a billion dollars this year. Spew elsewhere.

    Perhaps YOU should look at NASA's budgets:

    NASA budget: 1997: 14.358 Billion
    NASA budget: 2007: 16.250 Billion

    This is not an "inflation-adjusted" figure. Over the last 10 years, NASA's budget has grown by a total of 13.177%. Over those same 10 years, inflation totalled 27.23%. (and that's only using the "core inflation" figures that don't take into account housing, food, or energy).

    Adding a billion still leaves it short by $2.017 Billion.

  • Re:Sad day (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:30PM (#22851824)
    I'd love to see where you got that "real" inflation is 10%-12% (which is a huge, useless range, btw). Second, the CPI is calculated by Ph.D Economists - if you think you know better than them, go prove them they're wrong, otherwise, keep your crackpot "facts" to yourself.

    As an actual economist, I can't stand people that pull numbers out of their asses and talk like they're some kind of "authority" or that some crap they read is an "authority." Anyone that ACTUALLY understands economics would know that there is no such thing as "knowing" the "real" rate of inflation and that the CPI is the best indicator of inflation we have; there are versions of the CPI that DO include energy expenditures.
    The reason that the traditional CPI does not include energy is because of the speculative nature of energy prices and 1) they change too often to be measurable with accuracy (on a monthly basis) and 2) it is assumed that the cost of energy will be picked up by cost increases in all other goods, thus energy costs would have a multiplicative effect on the CPI, which will make it less accurate and less useful.

    Thanks for playing. Go home.
  • Re:Sad day (Score:3, Informative)

    by proxima (165692) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:39PM (#22851892)

    That won't even keep pace with inflation. Real inflation (not the CPI bs that the government hands out every year, which excludes stuff like fuel) is running between 10% and 12%.

    The CPI is released in several forms. It's usually reported in the news as either the overall CPI index (which includes food and energy), or the CPI less food and energy (sometimes referred to as the "cold and hungry" CPI). Neither is anywhere close to 10-12%. See for yourself [bls.gov]. Overall inflation, at an annual rate, based on the last 3 months is 3.4%. Based on the last 12 months, it's 4.4%. Without food and energy, these numbers are 2.4% and 2.3%. Inflation is up from its relatively low values in the last couple of decades, but still far away from the early 80s [stlouisfed.org]. Also, many economists believe that the CPI in fact overstates inflation. Why? People will substitute from goods which became relatively more expensive to those which haven't. To the extent that the basket of goods that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to calculate CPI doesn't take this into account, it will make inflation seem larger than the average person will really feel.

    The CPI is supposed to measure what typical households buy, but if you can only pick one rate of "inflation", it's usually the most reasonable. Even if you were to argue that NASA spends a great deal of its budget on fuel (which I highly, highly doubt), that fuel is not directly petroleum-based. The solid rockets are based on ammonium percholorate [wikipedia.org] (according to this [wikipedia.org]). The shuttle itself has engines based off of liquid hydrogen and oxygen [wikipedia.org].

       
  • Re:Sad day (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:02PM (#22852048)
    I'm not sure if any of the inventions he mentions were made by NASA. They may have used them, promoted them, but invented them?

    From Wikipedia:

    Velcro: The hook-loop fastener was invented in 1945 by Swiss engineer, George de Mestral.
    Tang: The original orange flavored Tang was formulated by General Foods Corporation in 1957.
    Microwave Oven: Cooking food with microwaves was discovered by Percy Spencer while building magnetrons for radar sets at Raytheon.
    Internet: DARPA, i.e. Us Military.

    Really I don't know why studying rocks on Mars is that important. What we need is more research into clean renewable energy. That would solve the terrorist problem(no more easy oil money), world hunger, global warming, benefit the first(probably the most since we use the most), second and third worlds and possibly bring world peace.

    No doubt someone will try to make up some bullshit that studying Mars climate will help us study Global warming or some other line of BS. My answer is no it won't. And even if it did, its a little like trying to figure out why your house is on fire, instead of working on putting it out.
  • Re:Sad day (Score:4, Informative)

    by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:19PM (#22852168) Journal

    Price of gasoline 10 years ago: $1.04.
    Price of gasoline now: $3.27

    They exclude energy from the inflation calculations for just that reason - it affects the cost of everything, and it's HUGE.

    Then there's housing: http://therealreturns.blogspot.com/2007/06/median-and-average-house-prices-in-usa.html [blogspot.com]

    The average house price in January of 2000 was at $200,300 and in April of 2007 the average house price stood at $299,100. The average house prices grew about 50% from January 2000 to April of 2007.
    It was a lot worse on the coasts, where price increases of 15 to 30% per YEAR were the norm.

    http://www.financialsense.com/stormwatch/2005/0624.html [financialsense.com]

    One way to lower entitlements would be to bring the inflation rates down, which would translate into lower Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). The way to do this was to bring down the rate of inflation. However, this was not done by natural means, but artificially through statistical manipulation. The supply of money and credit began to go parabolic in the 1990s as shown in the graph of M3. The rise in money and credit would mean higher inflation rates. Higher inflation rates would mean higher COLA adjustments, which would lead to bigger deficits.

    As for the "it is assumed that the cost of energy will be picked up by cost increases in all other goods" - when calculating the CPI, they substitute goods preferentially so as to lower the calculation, as well as "adjusting" the price of a good downward!!! if it's better than last year's model...

    Hedonics

    The manipulation didnt stop there. The bureau also began to adjust prices for quality. This practice became known as hedonics. Hedonics adjusts the prices of goods as a result of the increased pleasure a consumer derives from a product. A few examples will illustrate how removed the index has moved away from reality. Tim LaFleur is a commodity specialist for televisions at the BLS. In December last year he adjusted the price of a 27-inch television set for quality improvements. The 27-inch television set had a retail cost of $329.99. However, he decided the new model, which still sold for $329.99, had a better screen. After putting this improvement through the governments complex hedonic adjustment model he determined the improvement in the picture was worth at least $135! Taking in this improvement he adjusted the price of the TV by $135, concluding that the price of the TV had actually fallen by 29%! [1] The price reflected in the CPI was not the actual retail store cost of $329.99, but $194.99. The only problem for we consumers is that if we went to Best Buy or Circuit City to buy that TV, we would still pay $329.99.

    Another example of hedonics at work is the way the BLS treats rising automobile prices. Mr. Reese, a specialist for autos, took a 2005 model car, which went from $17,890 in 2004 to $18,490 in 2005. After adjusting for quality items and making antilock disc brakes standard, the bureau adjusted the actual $600 price increase down by $225. The problem for we consumers is that the price of the car in dealer showrooms was still $18,490.

    and

    Instead of using new car prices, which were going up each year, the BLS substituted used car prices, which were falling. In place of exploding real estate prices, the Bureau gave more weight to the price of rents, which were falling as more households bought homes. Rents were given more weight even though 69% of households own a home versus the 31% that rent.

    Real inflation has been understated since 1986, when they changed the way it was calculated. Anyone who says they believe the "official" CPI is a fool or a liar.

  • by Nalez (556446) on Monday March 24, 2008 @11:16PM (#22852972) Homepage
    Well, if you bothered to RTFA, and then bothered to follow the link to the next blog entry (which is here: http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/24/mars-rover-reprieve/ [cnn.com]), you might have seen this followup:

    Mars rover reprieve?
    Posted: 08:00 PM ET

    Just hours after we reported that NASA budget cuts would lead to the shut down of the Mars rover "Spirit," we received this from NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs:

    "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. 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."

    And this from NASA Administrator Michael Griffin:

    "NASA will not shut down one of the Mars rovers."

    But when I called rover principal investigator Steve Squyres back, he said he hadn't heard anything additional from anyone at NASA, and wonders whether the directive to cut $4 million out of his budget still stands. He says it is a question of simple math...if he has to cut $4 million, then he has to shut down a rover. It's that simple.

    So questions remain.

    I'll update the blog if I get more clarification.

    -Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @02:53AM (#22854306) Journal
    The surpluses where nothing close to paying the interest on the debt let alone dropping any principle off of it.

    The surpluses where caused by two main facters that will never be repeated soon. First was the Roth IRA conversion which allow regular before tax IRAs to be converted to after tax IRAs so we took a future tax payment and allowed it to be spread across 4 years. The second thing is the Tax breaks on capitol gains which spurred movement on long held investments. Going from a top marginal 39% federal rate to a 15% lead to investors cashing out sooner then later which also led to the market rally which ended with the dot com bust. The later did more harm long term then good. We have yet to see the effect of the IRA conversion which the next administration will start dealing with.

    It sounds good to say string them together, and if making appropriate cuts in spending where behind it was the actual cause, it would be a good plan. But the current policy seems to be wait until something bad happens, use a gimmick like the last time we had a balanced budget and surplus, then let it ride. At this stage, massive cuts and increased taxes (something that would crash the economy harder then a speeding car hitting a brick wall) is about the only way to get another temporary surplus.
  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @10:33AM (#22856994) Homepage
    You know, at the height of the "illegal immigrants are killing America!" hype, I saw a fairly well-researched and well-reasoned piece that basically laid out how much they cost America and the answer is a lot less than the politicians and pundits were claiming (or at least implying). They don't tend to use many public services like Medicare, mostly it's just public schools. (And it's not clear to me that the actual attendees aren't mostly born here, making them US citizens.) On the other hand, most of them pay taxes: they certainly pay the local sales tax and property taxes. In fact, after factoring in what they do for the economy, it was likely that the illegal immigrants were actually giving us all a boost rather than costing us money. (Not that this makes it all OK, I hasten to add, it's not a purely economic question even if the pundits/politicians want to scare you that way.)

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