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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Update: 03/29 20:02 GMT by KD : NASA has rescinded the memo to the JPL threatening budget cuts, and is now saying that no rovers will be shut down.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:2, Interesting)

    by jurzdevil (1259614) on Monday March 24, 2008 @06:37PM (#22851344)
    i completely agree...NASA catches so much bad media when something fails, but when they achieve something so incredible, nobody hears about it and their budget gets slashed.
  • Re:Sad day (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd...bandrowsky@@@gmail...com> on Monday March 24, 2008 @06:43PM (#22851388) Homepage Journal
    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

    The same President who launched the war in Iraq also is the first President to enact a workable plan for putting people on Mars. By contrast, if Obama gets in, its likely that NASA will face some pretty deep cuts. For some reason, Republicans don't have as big of a problem blowing lots of money on space stuff, whereas Democrats always have to get past this "we could use the money to feed the poor" mental stumbling block. If it wasn't for the war, Bush would have been alright.
  • by cerulean_blue99 (881404) on Monday March 24, 2008 @06:51PM (#22851468)
    The article mentions that funding is being reduced for the current mission, but that decision is being made in the context of (cost overruns) with the upcoming "Mars Science Laboratory, a follow-on rover set to launch next year". So while they are cutting funding for the current rovers, it's not as if they're stopping the Mars science-based mission overall?
  • by Cordath (581672) on Monday March 24, 2008 @07:01PM (#22851582)
    It's painful watching some of the most fascinating projects ever conceived being raked over the coals of budget cuts in the U.S., but you guys aren't alone.

    Some of you may have seen that giant freakin' cool space robot called Dextre that just went up to the ISS. The Canadian company responsible (MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates or MDA) for that coolness is being sold off to a U.S. company.

    The important thing to realize about MDA is that it was started over four decades ago and has been carefully nurtured by public funding with the express intention of forwarding Canada's space technology sector. MDA is the backbone of Canada's space program. (as small as it may be) In addition to selling off Canada's space program, this sale also includes RADARSAT-2, which was built with Canadian tax money and is currently used by the government to monitor the arctic. The sale of this satellite to a U.S. company will mean that the Canadian government will be ceding control [foxbusiness.com] of the satellite which it paid for to the U.S., a country which disputes Canadian sovereignty in some of the areas RADARSAT-2 monitors. RADARSAT-2 was effectively *given* to MDA to simplify operations, but now it's being sold to the U.S. and the money is going to MDA's shareholders rather than the Canadian government that paid for it!

    The only thing standing in the way is a Rubber Stamp from the Industry minister Jim Prentice. Seeing as he's never failed to rubber stamp a sale before, the picture looks grim.

    So, the U.S. is not alone in being mismanaged from the very top.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Monday March 24, 2008 @07:20PM (#22851736) Journal
    I confess complete and total ignorance here. I'm just trying to figure out why it's so expensive to run the rover program?

    The rovers, it's true, cost a lot of money to design, build, test, and deliver to Mars. But that is money already spent. Now that they are there, what are the major expenses of running the program? I realize that you do need staff and equipment to maintain communication with the rovers, and to send them programming, and that implies needing facilities in which to house the staff and equipment. But NASA already owns the facilities and equipment, I believe?

    How many staff does it take to run the program? I wouldn't think it would be a huge number of people? 20 or 30 (that might be way off, I'm just pulling numbers out of the air, admittedly, but I can't understand why it would take a lot of people to run the program)? I realize that the scientists and engineers working on a program like this would be higher paid than the general public. Assuming an average salary of 100k per year, plus benefits at, say, 20k per year, 30 people would run you 3.6M per year.

    Also, quick question - sometimes in large organizations like NASA, you can get some tricks going like paying one person to work on something that benefits two programs, but who is officially working on the other program. Could the Mars Rover program be kept alive with assistance from other programs inside NASA that need to maintain 'shared infrastructure'?
  • by nelsonal (549144) on Monday March 24, 2008 @07:26PM (#22851780) Journal
    It's saber rattling that is common in budget fights. An agency with it's budget cut threatens to kill needed/popular programs to get it's budget increased. Same as when it looks like state budgets will be cut the first thing on the chopping block is police and early release of prisoners.
  • by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:06PM (#22852080)
    I think there are practical reasons for having space exploration - it serves much like war in stimulating a different kind of thinking, unusual problems to be solved, and that inspires a new wave of creativity. When nothing major is going on things become stagnant and civilisation doesn't progress. If we put a lot of focus on space we could find new opportunities that would force us to look into new directions.

    As a side note the war in Iraq is doing wonders for the robotics industry - defence is putting a lot of funding into AI and robotics which will speed up progress by possibly a decade.
  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:22PM (#22852182) Homepage Journal
    ... People's Republic of China. They have all these excess US dollars you see, as a result of selling us consumer products. They don't have much useful to do with them, so they buy our Treasury bonds.

    This means the PRC has the US over a barrel: if we try to stand up to them over, say, Tibet or Taiwan, they'll stop buying our bonds, or even dump them.

  • by statemachine (840641) on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:23PM (#22852190)
    or do you really want to pay $35 for an apple pie made from imported apples because there's no longer a viable fruit industry in the US because nobody picks the fruit...
    I'm all for low prices, but if fruit growers would stop getting away with paying under minimum wage to illegal and even legal workers, maybe we would have more incentive to invent decent fruit picking machines? Maybe they could be assembled in Mexico? And our locals would maintain them? Win-win?

    Although, we already import fruit [freshplaza.com] out of season.
  • Re:Sad day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Monday March 24, 2008 @08:59PM (#22852428) Journal

    The real CPI has not been reported since 1986. Here's some of the tricks used [financialsense.com].

    Gasoline has more than tripled in price in the last decade (1.04 to 3.27) . Housing? Doubled or tripled. Food? Don't even ask. Sure, you can substitute for some items, but for the stuff you actually NEED, like a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and transportation to and from work?

    Also, the calculators of the CPI have already done the "substitution", to such an extent that they use USED cars instead of new cars, and "owner's equivalent rent" instead of the actual cost of the roof over your head. Its a lie.

    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.

  • by Warui Kami (104676) on Monday March 24, 2008 @09:09PM (#22852522)
    Actually, the only stable isotope of gold has 118 neutrons, you seem to be short 39. Although, if you were to make it with 116 neutrons, you'd have a half-life on 186 days, with a decay product of platinum. Good luck in your alchemy!
  • by chuckymonkey (1059244) <charles.d.burton@NOSPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @03:11AM (#22854556) Journal
    Yes war is a bitch, it's ugly, dirty, bloody and terrible as well. I would know as I spent two years in Iraq, and I still ask for what? The guys you talk about walking around with the guns in the middle of the night are very few compared to the many like myself and a friend I met in the Army who is more like a brother to me than my real brother. He's also the godfather of my children. We're the ones that hunted in the night, made the decisions on whether or not someone would die (not reactionary as in a firefight, we targeted and premeditated who would die) and have to live with those decisions for the rest of our lives. I could probably be called a psychopath now from the things that I had to do. I live with the nightmares, I wake up wondering where I am sometimes, I react badly to anyone trying to cause me or my family harm, sometimes if the terrain is right while I'm driving I'll have brief flashes of being back in Iraq driving around the desert, objects beside the road still terrify me, and where I used to be somewhat phlegmatic I now can snap into blazing irrational anger in an instant. I'm one of the lucky ones though, my wife stayed with me unlike 80% of the other soldiers. Not only that but she has been instrumental in helping me through the bad times, never fearing that I would hurt her, and calming me down when I have an episode. My brother has sunk into a depression so deep that I don't know how to help him, I can't get him to see a doctor and the only person he'll really open up to is me. Those are the stories that are around you every day, 1/4 of us have them somewhat severely and damned near all to some minor extent. Ours are probably a little different because we premeditated everything, but then again everyone's story is different.

    Back on topic though, this country really needs to get the sense of wonder back and realize that a lot of what we have today we owe to the space programs.
  • by Omestes (471991) <omestes@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @04:40AM (#22854852) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps if we hired citizens working at minimum wage or more there would be more money floating around with the consumers to allow higher fruit prices, perhaps, as well, we give these citizens benefits so they pay less in health care allowing them to have more disposable income. Then say we charge these workers an income tax so the government can get a little more done, and a little less debt. Then just imagine if removing the illegal labor we free some burden from hospitals and schools so people paying this said tax get some benefits.

    This "illegal immigrants do jobs that americans won't take" rhetoric is fallacious. Americans won't take the jobs because they don't pay a living (or legal) wage. If you made them full-time, roughly minimum wage jobs then I'm sure Americans will flock to them. I really don't understand the origin of this rhetorical trick, since Americans can, and HAVE done these exact same jobs in the last 30 years, the only difference was that they were fair jobs because it was before the politicos and fat-cats used our disadvantaged neighbors down south to break unions and lower wages, WITHOUT passing any of the savings from screwing the blue-collar worker down.

    The economic argument for keeping illegals is bunk. The only valid argument I can find is the humanitarian one.

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