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Mars NASA Space

Next-Gen Mars Rover In Danger of Cancellation 210

Posted by timothy
from the infinite-possibilities-finite-taxpayers dept.
OriginalArlen writes "NASA's next-generation rover, the nuclear-powered, laser-equipped Mars Science Laboratory is reported to be at a serious risk of cancellation due to budget and schedule overruns, including non-delivery of vital parts by a subcontractor. Costs are running over $2B so far, and the already thin schedule of Mars missions planned for the next decade — with budget ring-fenced for an outer-planets flagship mission — is in danger of further cuts."
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Next-Gen Mars Rover In Danger of Cancellation

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  • by R2.0 (532027) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @11:48AM (#25287319)

    Anyone else thinking that this is just a smokescreen to develop the most awesomest Battlebot ever?

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Anyone else thinking that this is just a smokescreen to develop the most awesomest Battlebot ever?

      It could be. That's certainly what the Martians think, which is the real reason it's being canceled. They were okay with us sending a few probes and rovers, but nuclear-powered laser-bots are where they draw the line. So in the name of interplanetary relations the project has to die. Budget overruns is just the cover story, since they can't very well admit that the whole "looking for signs of life" thing is

      • I think I'd like to hear the Martian Defense Minister's comments on this story. Haven't heard from him (her? it?) in quite some time.

    • by kat_skan (5219)

      It's gonna be hilarious to watch NASA's two billion dollar engine of nuclear laser death get KO'd in five seconds by a $60 ramp on wheels.

  • by Coraon (1080675) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @11:56AM (#25287421)
    you know if they shifted the budget for 1 week of the iraq war to this project that probe would already be, well probing things...
    • by ichigo 2.0 (900288) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @11:59AM (#25287487)
      But deficit spending is killing the USA.
    • Tell grandma to get a job and pay for her own pills... I want a rover!

    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:04PM (#25287575) Journal

      The Iraq war is just a small part of it. We are currently 11 Trillion in debt when you include our bailout of the financial system. I am a fiscal conservative who voted for Bush in 2000, and regretted it by 2002. I believe in a small government, but I also understand that the feds do have important roles to play. Given the option of low taxes and deficits versus higher taxes and a balanced budget I will go balanced all the way.

      The fact is the debt costs us every day. The last I check, we spend over $1Billion per day just to finance the debt. That could very well double in the next decade as our credit worthiness goes down, and our debt goes up.

      The fact is, no matter how much we earn, we will every satisfy every want that we have. However, when your paycheck goes to debtors, you have to go without more. Space exploration and scientific investment is very important to me... as close to a need as you can get while technically still being a want. However, it must invariably be and has already been curtailed because of our debt.

      Iraq will eventually end. Our expenses there will drop. But our debt will hang around our neck like a lead weight. Future generations will have to dig themselves out from under it before investing in the important things, or they will continue to let it balloon as my generation has.

      I am truly ashamed that my generation will be the first to leave the country in a worse state than what they received.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by crmarvin42 (652893)

        I am truly ashamed that my generation will be the first to leave the country in a worse state than what they received.

        I take this to mean you are a baby boomer, and I appreciate that at least some boomers realize that the world will continue to exist after they're gone.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I am 35. I am a few years younger than the baby boomer generation. However, you can really view the problems that I see from 1965-today, with a recent spiral in the past 15 years. Some might define the dates differently. The fact is, someone has to stand up, take responsibility and do something to correct. Instead of pointing elsewhere, i would rather point the finger in the mirror and say to those around my age that they need to view leadership much differently.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by crmarvin42 (652893)
            I completely agree. My parents are from the tail end of the baby boom and while they raised us to believe that personal accountability is paramount, most of their friends raised children that believe the world owes them a living. If I wrecked my car it was my problem and I had to pay for it (both originally and to fix it). I had friends who's parents bought them brand new cars 3 times in less than 5 years because the kept crashing them while drunk or high. Their parents did everything to help their chil
  • The Bush Legacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @11:56AM (#25287429) Homepage Journal

    Anyone else notice that Bush's term is leaving the US space program without a Space Shuttle or alternative for staffing or servicing the Space Station that we paid more than our share to build, and actually devastating the manned missions to Mars that would keep our lead among our global competitors? Remember when Bush ran for reelection in 2004 promising us a Mars mission, though everyone knew he was "kidding"?

    What we'll have left, after Bush's term is done (in which he put Star Wars scientist and CIA venture capitalist Michael Griffin [wikipedia.org] in charge of NASA) is a space program that mainly launches spy satellites and promotes "space supremacy" for the Pentagon and the CIA. Military satellites now used to spy on Americans [arstechnica.com].

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      I'm no Bush fan, by any stretch of the imagination. But, in this case, he is HARDLY alone among U.S. presidents. Every president since Nixon has made grandiose promises about all the great stuff NASA is going to do, while continuing to fund it at a *fraction* of the funding they had during the 60's (leaving NASA in a perpetual "do a few cheap things every year, just enough to keep justifing our funding" mode).

      Obama will do the same thing. He'll stand at some podium, talk about how NASA is going to the moo

      • Re:The Bush Legacy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @01:03PM (#25288549) Homepage Journal

        Will he? Funny how you extrapolate Obama, a Democrat, from Bush and Nixon, the two most partisan Republicans in history. Despite the records of Kennedy, Johnson, and even financially crippled (by the Nixon/Ford legacy) Carter, and Clinton, too, which show that NASA is a Democratic programme that Republicans lie about and steal from.

        I didn't say that Bush was alone. But we can have high expectations of Obama, despite the knowledge (that I'm offering here) that Bush is leaving Obama with a crippled NASA and a devastated budget and economy to fund it from.

        • by elrous0 (869638) *
          The only thing that believing in any party politician is going to get you is disappointment. Obama talks a good game, but when he gets in, he'll be no different than all the others before him.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Digital End (1305341)
        Obama isn't going to have enough money to do any damn thing, so I can't really start laying blame to hard already... Bush DID have the money, and chose to invest in Iraq
    • Re:The Bush Legacy (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:41PM (#25288205) Journal

      Politics aside, Michael Griffin has been in the space business a long time and is a very intelligent person. He also happens to be borderline rabid on Mars. I took a class on space guidance and navigation (basically a graduate level orbital mechanics class) and our part of our final exam was a Mars mission flight. I was long gone from NASA before he took over, so he could be an administrative nightmare, but he does know his stuff.

      As for the Bush promise - yeah, but anyone who understood what was necessary knew he was blowing smoke. I put the mars mission at about $2T, based on previous high profile projects; I might have underestimated by a hair, but I don't think I'm too far off. And, of course, you should never trust any project for which the substantial portion of money will be spent _after_ the politician is certain to be out of office.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Well, that's even worse. Griffin's NASA isn't stymied by lack of know-how, it's lack of can-do. Though not in Griffin's specialty: Star Wars and spacewar, which Griffin has protected with can-do without the know-how.

        NASA is failing because of politics, which was of course injected into its science at every step relevant to the hyperpolitical Bush team, of which Griffin was an essential part. We have to be realistic about how to get NASA working again, starting with replacing Griffin and his Pentagon/CIA pri

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Before you reply: "WTF?!" McCain has a decent policy on our space program [johnmccain.com], and has supported it while in Congress. This is one area where he's not like Bush.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @01:11PM (#25288659) Homepage Journal

        Yeah, Bush had a "decent policy on our space program" too, like a manned Mars mission. But, like McCain is on anything else he's saying this campaign season, he's going to continue the Bush policies he voted with over 90% of the time this decade, and just bait & switch us to some Pentagon/CIA boondoggles instead of NASA's space mission.

        You're voting for McCain because you're a Republican. You voted for Bush twice, too. It's not rocket science to see that you're a bad decider. Vote McCain if you want to see him "take up space" in the White House the way that Bush did: get in the way without doing anything useful.

      • ... you are seriously voting mccain for the SPACE PROGRAM!?

        You have got to be the dumbest Anon Coward I've seen. Mod me down, I don't care... but if he honestly thinks McCain is going to spend a dime on space he's insane. No matter WHO wins no money is going to be spent on space, we don't have the spare funds. There are a thousand reasons for and against McCain, but space? Just wow.
  • Odds are that that Congress will send the little thing away. Sad, but not surprising. Politicians are myopic opportunistic creatures that managed to stuff 100 billion of porked, unrelated projects into a 700 billion economic bill. Talk about a lopsided understanding of budgeting.

    The government is intent on phasing out the Space Shuttles in favor of the Orion, or, based on its appearance and supposed existence no earlier than two years after the Orbiters stop flying, I call it the Disappearing Pencil Trick.

    N

    • I call it the Disappearing Pencil Trick.

      Hmmm, I wonder where they could shove the Orion stack to make it disappear? I can think of a couple of candidates...

  • Where the hell (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @11:59AM (#25287489)

    Are the pork barrel last minute additions to the $700 billion buyout package for this kind of stuff? NASA doesn't have lobbyists? No congressmen from Florida or Alabama have this kind of pull?

    • by carn1fex (613593)
      NASA employees are directly barred from lobbying as are all civil servants by the Hatch Act (wiki). [wikipedia.org] Though people in congress do step in for specific projects now and then, notably Hubble and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, it is unfortunately rare.
  • Not $2B Over (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:07PM (#25287623)

    Just to clarify, the rover is not $2 billion over budget, which is the impression I got from the summary. It is $500 million over its $1.5 billion budget, and part of that is due to inflation.

    If we try to delay the launch, the delay will cost us an extra $300 million. If we cancel the launch, we just spent $2 billion on nothing, and the science it was meant to do remains undone. This shouldn't be a hard decision:

    1. Pony up and get this thing launched.
    2. Investigate how this happened so we can avoid overruns like this in the future.

    • 1. Pony up and get this thing launched.

      Absolutely.

      2. Investigate how this happened so we can avoid overruns like this in the future.

      I can give you the results of the investigation right now. Cost estimating billion dollar projects is impossible. Period.

      • I can give you the results of the investigation right now. Cost estimating billion dollar projects is impossible. Period.

        I hope that we can apply that lesson to future projects. We can create a ranged budget, rather than just picking an optimistic number. We can structure contracts such that contractors and project managers are motivated to keep costs low, but without so much pressure that they cut corners. Budget increases should be examined to determine if they were due to mistakes or legitimate challenge

        • We need a new strategy for government spending. Simply picking the "lowest" cost proposal is driving the procurement process into litigation hell.

          I am not sure what the answer is, but McCain's philosophy of wanting to get rid of cost plus contracts is definately not the way to go.

          No company in their right mind would bid on a 40 billion dollar program.

  • by ciaohound (118419) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:12PM (#25287703)

    nuclear-powered, laser-equipped

    Couldn't it just be repurposed to fight terrorists?

  • Given how well the two MER rovers are working, why not just build a couple more of them and send them to different locations on Mars? Seems like right now it would be better to explore more areas and get a better overall view of the martian geology. Better to have a limited (from a science standpoint) presence on Mars than put all your eggs in a $2B basket, IMHO.
    • by delt0r (999393)
      That is in fact a really good idea. But you know what, there are a lot of R&D folk without a job if you recycle designs, even good ones. NASA and aerospace in general is just as much pork as other high government funded sectors.
    • Given how well the two MER rovers are working, why not just build a couple more of them and send them to different locations on Mars?

      Because it is far from certain the next pair will do as well... Because the MER landing system can only handle smooth, low altitude sites - we've been lucky they've survived long enough to cruise into areas they couldn't have landed in.

      But mostly because the engineering team that built has been disbanded and moved onto other projects long ago. It would take years to

    • by ruin20 (1242396)
      a $2B basket measured in feet
    • Good question. There are several answers.

      • Firstly, the MER are at the absolute mass limit of what can be landed on Mars with airbags. (And of course you can't change the EDL profile without completely changing the mission architecture and losing the cost benefits of reuse.) They also need a deep thick atmosphere with enough depth to brake down from the cruise speed with the heatshield / aeroshell, and then enough for a parachute to slow the stack to a low enough speed to light the various terminal thrusters
  • Tell me this isn't a government op. :-P
  • by mcelrath (8027) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:32PM (#25288035) Homepage

    The US is in a very bad position with respect to "Big Science". The problem basically is that any congress can't tie the hands of any future congress, and the consequence of this for science is that every single project faces cancellation, every single year. This has led to the cancellation many projects, a prominent example being the Superconducting Supercollider [wikipedia.org].

    Science has a much longer-term view than congress. Congress, at most, has a view that lasts 2 years (to the next election), and practically it's much less than that. The US needs to devise a scheme to keep these projects going through hard times, and through fickle congressional actions. A constitutional amendment is unlikely, but how about some creative financing, of the "trust fund" variety? When things run over budget, bring in auditors, fire some people, but at all costs, make sure the science happens.

    I'm at CERN, where the funding comes from member states as a fraction of their GDP. As a consequence, CERN has an extremely stable budget compared to US labs. If a project runs over-budget, the lab can simply delay the project. They also have a large permanent staff, so when new ideas come up, they can very quickly move to answer scientific questions, without building entirely new facilities. The expertise already exists here.

    Canceling a project has disastrous consequences. Not only do you lose the science that would be gained, you may also lose the scientists, and technology developed along the way. It really is selling out future generations, and sacrificing technological advancement on a long timescale. It's very hard to see what will happen 50 years in the future, but I don't think human colonies on Mars are out of the question, perhaps spurred by the discoveries of the Mars Science Laboratory. Basic research has always paid off in the long run.

    The US will lose out on the discoveries that will be made by the LHC. The US could have done it with the SSC a decade ago. How many more times does this have to happen before the US realizes it's a bad idea to cancel projects, and fixes the problem?

    • When things run over budget, bring in auditors, fire some people, but at all costs, make sure the science happens.

      I love it when a plan consists of essentially...

      1) Bring in Auditors
      2) Fire People
      3) ????????
      4) As if by magic - Science Happens!

      • by mcelrath (8027)
        The goal is to control costs. As long as you don't fire all the scientists or cancel the project outright, the project will still happen and the discoveries will be made. There's no magic in that.
        • As long as you don't fire all the scientists or cancel the project outright, the project will still happen and the discoveries will be made.

          Right. Let's say a project is $X over budget, and requires $Y to complete - fire half the staff, and you're *still* $X over budget and *still* require $Y (or something close to it) to complete. Absent magic, you still haven't saved any money. In fact its not unlikely that your costs actually _increase_, as reduced staff means a longer time to completion - which means

          • by mcelrath (8027)

            Yes, congratulations, you understand that when things are over budget the costs have increased. I never claimed that there was a magic solution to make things cost less. I said completing the science is important, and canceling it causes too much harm.

            If the near-term budget is all you care about, then cancel the project. If the economic gains which result from the discoveries, but won't occur for 5-50 years are important, then you damned well better make sure the project is completed, despite the cost

    • by JohnFluxx (413620)

      Are you serious about the american supercolider? It was only proposed because they wanted to show superiority over the Europeans. It's projected cost went from $4 billion up to $12 billion by the time it was cancelled.

      The Americans did a very smart thing in cancelling the project and donating money to the LHC instead. Working with the Europeans instead of against.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mcelrath (8027)

        I'm to young to really have a full comprehension of the politics at the time...but the cancellation was due to both some financial mismanagement, and competition with the International Space Station, which ran to 100 billion. I hear stories about how biologists were going to their congress-critter's office complaining about how the "proton racetrack" was going to cause them to loose all their funding. It's disgusting that different disciplines have to compete in this way. But if congress decides one day

  • Overspending (Score:4, Insightful)

    by speroni (1258316) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:47PM (#25288303) Homepage

    I'd rather over spend a little on a space program than on a war.

    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      I'd rather over spend a little on a space program than on a war.

      That's going to confuse the hell out of the space-war budget.

  • 700 billion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nexttech (1289308) on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @12:53PM (#25288405)
    The government does not like a $2 billion cost overrun and yet it give's $700 billion dollars to a bunch of morons who can't keep their business afloat.
    • Correction: $500 million cost overrun.
      Second Correction: $850 billion bailout plan.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Urkki (668283)

        Well, that's only $350 *illion difference, so it sounds like they're paying most of the bailout with a Mars rover. Sounds reasonable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Billions already collected from risky financing, and now billions more collected to "bail out". Yeah, those guys are morons.
  • It means something like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org], right?

    That would means the lifespan could be estimated accurately and no surprise is possible. Remember those two rovers were supposed to live only for 90 days due to the power? There is the surprise!

    Oh never mind, at this point I realized that the surprise came from under-estimation...NASA, please announce the estimated life time of the next rover in half to keep us surprised.

  • FORGET the $2B (or whatever it is and change) for space exploration and the advancement of the human race... WE NEED TO SAVE WALL STREET!

  • by AMuse (121806) <slashdot-amuse.foofus@com> on Tuesday October 07, 2008 @02:44PM (#25290107) Homepage

    Coincidentally, I threw together this chart yesterday when arguing with a friend about NASA's budget and how space exploration is "a huge government waste".

    http://foofus.com/amuse/public/Fedspending-2008-linechart.jpg [foofus.com]

    (disclaimer: I do work for NASA).

    Most interestingly to me is that if NASA's budget stayed the same, it would take 47 years to spend as much money as the 2008 wall street bailout - which would be the retirement date for a brand-new, young hire.

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