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NASA Government Mars The Almighty Buck United States

Mars Rover Opportunity Faces New Threat: Budget Ax 185

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-rover-for-you dept.
astroengine writes "NASA's baseline budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 pulls the plug on the 10-year-old Mars rover Opportunity, newly released details of the agency's fiscal 2015 spending plan show. The plan, which requires Congressional approval, also anticipates ending the orbiting Mars Odyssey mission on Sept. 30, 2016. 'There are pressures all over the place,' NASA's planetary science division director Jim Green said during an advisory council committee teleconference call on Wednesday."
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Mars Rover Opportunity Faces New Threat: Budget Ax

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  • 90 day budget (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @11:34PM (#46470845)

    It really overran the original 90 day budget.

    • Re:90 day budget (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MrBingoBoingo (3481277) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @11:46PM (#46470889) Homepage
      Sure, but... Continuing a legacy like that is cheaper than launching anything else. It's almost like the Airforce retiring the A-10 and supposing a vaporware F-35 can replace it, the F-35 being both Vaporware and an abortion because someone insisted the bulk of the US's future airplanes must take off and land like helicopters. Seriously, Fund NASA, axe the F-35 and just buy some French Raphaels already.
      • by hax4bux (209237) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:32AM (#46471309)

        You had me until "buy French Raphaels"

        • by steelfood (895457)

          I think GP mistook the Rafale [wikipedia.org] for an Italian painter who lived in the sewers of NYC with a giant talking rat.

      • Thats the nearest equivalent jet in capability to the F-35 - and its actually in production and flying today. The Rafale looks nice buts its a bit long in the tooth now and not at the top of its game.

        • by JJP (26494)

          There is one real reason why these alternatives will never be considered an option by the US military (and therefore by a couple of other NATO countries). All these planes lack the capability to deliver a US designed nuclear warhead, and the US industrial/military complex is not likely to give away their USP in selling overpriced jets by licencing the technology to non-US manufacturers.

        • The Rafale and the Eurofighter are the same age (they actually date from the same initial development program, from which the Eurofighter countries left because they didn't want a carrier capable variant), it just looks like the Eurofighter is newer because it spent longer in development hell.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        And you forgot the fact that the A-10 is a better combat platform than the F-35 will ever be. Will the F-35 be able to fly home with most of it's wings and tail section missing? I doubt it. the A-10 does it all the time.

      • Uhm, no one said that the bulk of the US future airplanes must take off and land like helicopters - there are three variants of the F-35, and only the F-35B (which will be bought by the US Marine Corp, as well as the UK) has VTOL capability. The bulk of the F-35 order (around 1,600 planes at last count) will consist of the F-35A, which is completely conventional. The third variant is the F-35C, for the US Navy.

        It helps your argument if you actually sound like you know wtf you are bitching about.

      • by k6mfw (1182893)

        F-35 being both Vaporware and an abortion ...

        I remember back in 20th century when F-35 was CALF, Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter, as many planners saw F22 becoming so expensive that not even the Pentagon could afford no more that 100 or so.

    • Typical government run program. It's work was supposed to be completed in 90 days, but after ten years the rover's work is STILL not done.

    • by k6mfw (1182893)
      Now I want to know what components and parts were selected to make it last so long. Especially in terms of robotics having to deal with virtual vacuum (cannot use typical lubricants), dust and dirt didn't stop its gears (was it lunar dust that caused Chinese lunar rover to fail early in mission?). I think this needs continual funding with requirement of "alrighty how many more years will it last until it really bites the dust?"
  • debunking that life only excists on Earth?

  • by JesseJMH (3495217) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @11:43PM (#46470881)
    For a monthly fee, they should allow commoners to send commands to the rover. Lets see how fast the internet can break it! Bonus points for getting to the scale of twitch plays Pokemon.
  • open source it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @11:47PM (#46470891) Homepage Journal

    I think the whole "budget crisis on infinite earth's" is all fiscal voodoo...however if this has to happen, we should turn it over "to the community"

    NASA should open the project to screened volunteers who maintain the basic mission functions.

    NASA could set up an API & a simple prototyping program & let people download it for free. Best ideas get kicked up the ladder...eventually to NASA staff who could approve it.

    This should be happening now...it would cost virtually nothing (on NASA $ scales) and get thousands interested & involved in space.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They would probably be better off giving operational control over to a university with an existing research program. Preferably one that could field its own operations center (under the assumption that their budget problem is facilities and staff). The university could then create an outreach program for interested community members (maybe team up with the Udacity guys and do something online).

    • Re:open source it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @12:25AM (#46471019) Homepage Journal

      I realize it probably sounds like a good idea, but screening and training volunteers is likely to be even more expensive than keeping the minimal crew they have operating the rover now.

      Ditto on the API and "simple prototyping program," although I'm not even sure what that second thing even it supposed to be. Just writing the software would be expensive, not to mention you now have to have NASA people reviewing what comes in.

      Driving rovers probably sounds a lot easier than it is. Commands are strung together in sequences. Sequences have to be checked to make sure they don't have conflicting commands. Instruments have to be taken into account; it's not just driving around that is being done.

      And then there is the intense analysis and investigation that has to be done if something goes wrong. Reports have to be written explaining everything down to the bit level.

      On top of that there is planning to be done to even decide where to drive, which involves a whole lot of people.

      There is not only no money to be saved by handing operations over to "the community," there is also the probability that if you did the rover would be ruined within a few days.

      • I know code just doesn't write itself but on NASA budgetary scales this would be a pittance.

        When I say "simple prototyping program" I mean they learn the interface + mission capabilities...then they devise a mission...then they **test** the mission via the API & prototyping program.

        Basically it's a simple simulation program that anyone in "the community" could download and test their ideas for what the rover should do.

        They record their simulation & make a proposal that is discussed on forums...event

        • Re:open source it (Score:4, Informative)

          by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:27AM (#46472081) Journal

          on NASA budgetary scales

          You say that as though it is supposed to bolster your argument. NASA's budget is somewhere around $15bn/year, or about 0.5% of the total federal spending. That covers everything from advanced research to planetary exploration to human space flight. The line item for the Mars Exploration Rover program (i.e., Opportunity) is $13 million. I suspect a lot of that goes to personnel costs, some of which might be reduced through volunteer efforts. It also costs a lot to maintain the control center and the program infrastructure, which cannot be replicated through an "API and 'simple prototyping program' ". The costs associated with people coding instructions for the rover is really a small part of the program budget. The cost to create and administer some sort of volunteer program might be small compared to $15bn, but it would be quite expensive relative to costs it is trying to replace.

          • I think I remember that the Mars personnel are on a shifting schedule because a Mars day is 39min longer than an Earth day. That doesn't seem like a lot but it is cummulative. So over the course of two weeks (14 x 39m = 9.1 hours), your schedule is more than 9 hours off everyone else. This has to be factored as well.
          • You say that as though it is supposed to bolster your argument

            Yes...I did!

            Because it *does*

            $13 million. I suspect a lot of that goes to personnel costs, some of which might be reduce

            $13 million per year...that has to be cut

            You exhibit your lack of management experience by your framing of this idea. It's people like you that have made NASA suck for anyone trying to do real space exploration. Every idea is an opportunity for you to exercise your pedantic asperberger proclivities to bolster your ego.

            **MY IDEA

    • Re:open source it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:22AM (#46471283) Homepage

      This should be happening now...it would cost virtually nothing (on NASA $ scales)

      And it accomplishes virtually nothing to boot! Seriously, there's a hell of a lot more to running the rover than just steering and driving. There's also a whole hell of a lot of engineering support. Then there's the whole science team, who also are on the NASA payroll...

      • And it accomplishes virtually nothing to boot! Seriously, there's a hell of a lot more to running the rover than just steering and driving.

        right...i know what you mean. this would be more in the "PR" realm, but educational "PR"...they learn the stuff you're saying they need to know! Realistically speaking it's highly unlikely that a workable idea for use would get "kicked up the ladder" from the community would be anything that wouldn't have been pre-planned anyway.

        but don't discount "PR"...it's not just "P

        • And it accomplishes virtually nothing to boot! Seriously, there's a hell of a lot more to running the rover than just steering and driving.

          right...i know what you mean. this would be more in the "PR" realm, but educational "PR"...they learn the stuff you're saying they need to know! Realistically speaking it's highly unlikely that a workable idea for use would get "kicked up the ladder" from the community would be anything that wouldn't have been pre-planned anyway.

          Generally, it's considered bad form t

  • September 2016 is two and a half years from now. If NASA's lucky it'll wear out and stop functioning by then. If not then probably a big hue and cry will arise and funding will be found to keep it going.

    • by afidel (530433)

      As well it should, compared to designing, building, testing, and launching a new probe manning the ground station has to be downright cheap so as long as they are getting useful scientific information out of it it seems shortsighted to cut the funding.

  • If they give it a face, preferably with puppy or kitty eyes, finding continued funding for it should be no problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If NASA can't afford to explore space with robots, then what's the point of funding NASA at all? That's certainly what some probably want, but I think it's utterly ridiculous that NASA can't afford to continue to use resources they've already developed and launched.

    • by Megane (129182)

      If NASA can't afford to explore space with robots, then what's the point of funding NASA at all?

      One word: pork. It's to maintain those Shuttle-era jobs in the districts that already have them!

    • by NoWhereMan (3539)

      This is not the only attempt to say that NASA can't afford to continue to use resources they've already developed and launched.

      If you look at the SOFIA Project, [usra.edu] you will find that the aircraft recently reached a fully operational status. This is a platform that should run for about 20 years collecting data and expanding our scientific understanding. They were scheduling and assigning people time slots for years on out before this budget release.

      The budget proposal shows other priorities. NASA has been

  • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @01:13AM (#46471109)
    An expensive project with huge potential that died due to not putting up the funds to transport and fuel up the vehicle already built that could have both brought people there for a mission and nudge it into a higher orbit.
    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Skylab did it's mission, HAve you been in Skylab II? I have, it's sitting there at space camp in Huntsville, AL. I was able to get past the glass and walk around. it was incredibly small and not much science could get done in it. mostly it was to make sure that humans did not get space madness after extended stays in low gravity.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        That alone is of merit, as is plenty of other experiments done with very small pieces of equipment in the decades since.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Skylab was pretty much done; future mission plans involved refurbishment. Just prolonging its existence would not have been productive.

      • I really don't know how people can believe such stuff as the above two posters wrote. Is some sort of political tribalism going on where no choice made by Nixon can be questioned?
        Skylab was a lot of effort for work carried out very briefly and with care it had potential to last like Mir. Bullshit about the mission being done is just revisionism to justify abandoning the project just after it started.

        Just prolonging its existence would not have been productive.

        If you look up in the sky long enough you'll s

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @01:25AM (#46471137)

    What is the expense of this thing at this point?

    Everything being used is likely fixed and in use on or orbiting mars. The only things beyond that would be the transmitter/receiver on/above earth, the control room, and whatever you're paying the engineers to run it.

    So of that, the only thing that should really cost money is the engineer's time... and I would think at this point you could get volunteers to do it.

    Sorry, NASA's budget has no room for fat. These little projects add up to being a significant portion of a budget. I think the project should be maintained. But all the fat needs to be trimmed. Additionally, solicit donations and consider relocating the control room somewhere cheaper. Possibly a university somewhere would be happy to have graduate students control it and would pay most of the costs associated with maintaining it. After all, all the expensive stuff was already completed.

    Farm it out to someone with room in their budget.

    • The big-ticket item is probably communications They need one of the DSN antennas: huge dishes that there are never enough of. Ending the Curiosity mission makes room for a new mission without having to build a new 34-meter dish antenna.

      • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @06:21AM (#46471819)
        Nobody seems to be asking the most important question: What more can we expect in return for the continued operation? That answer should drive the decision. It may not cost much to keep it going, but if we've pretty much exhausted any meaningful return, then what is the point of putting more $$ into it. OTOH, if they think there is a lot more information we can gain beyond what we already have, then extend the operation appropriately.
  • This rover has been running ten years and has been used to do great science, far more than anyone ever anticipated. All the rovers have far exceeded their intended lifetimes. In other words, they're cheap. X number of dollars was spent to delivery Y amount of science and they got far more than they bargained for. Continuing the funding for the the rover means that this science gets even cheaper.

    What Congress really ought to do is give NASA $10 billion, tell them to build and launch more rovers of this t

    • by x0ra (1249540)
      and next year, they'll want 11 billion... then 12, 15, 20...
    • by anubi (640541) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:35AM (#46471321) Journal
      I keep seeing the argument of what we get for a dollar funded to NASA. I ask what we get for a dollar funded to professional sports. I get to see some grown man chase all over some field trying to snare a ball.

      I admit a lot of kids see this and dream of becoming a sports star or rock star. Is this a productive use of a human lifetime? Some say it is, some say it isn't, and I am not qualified to state. All I know is advancement of science is a dream to me. As far as I am concerned, Space Exploration is to science like programming games is to computer science. Its the stepping stone, the common basis of knowledge, from which we spring off whatever comes up.

      NASA has always been an icon for me - an entity who is actually doing something that has never been done before. Will I benefit from a romp on the moon? Probably not. Would I benefit from stronger alloys, higher energy density batteries, more sophisticated CAD systems, and legions of kids which were motivated by the Scientists at NASA. I believe I will.

      Our society seems to be quickly succumbing to what the economists refer to as "tragedy of the commons", where everybody is in it for themselves regardless of the cost to others. Our government is passing all sorts of laws encouraging "rent seeking" ( ownership benefits ) at the expense of production ( job creation ), leading us into a welfare state. I see big social problems ahead with this leadership model, as the ownership faction will run amok, leading to enormous wealth disparities between those who labor and those who own. We are setting ourselves up for a civil war between the worker and the politician/banker classes.

      We seem to have no problem funding enormous salaries for someone to hit a ball with a stick. Here we have fostered an intelligence great enough to have placed a part of ourselves on another planet, and we bicker over whether we can even fund manning the operation? I am quite sad over this whole affair. It seems the only idols we are given is all this bread and circus crap. No more Spock, Scotty, or Steve Squyres.
      • by x0ra (1249540)
        The problem is that the enormous salaries you are speaking about are being paid by private companies whose strategy is to maximize their own profit by paying a select few huge amount of money. NASA is publicly funded by nobody more than a bunch of elected official who merely need to be convinced to fund the project. ROI for the public is literally lights years away And let's be honest, who the @#$% gives a damn on playing with a robot on Mars when we keep being as savage as human can be, beside the guy hav
        • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @05:35AM (#46471695) Homepage

          then they can pay for their own fricking stadiums.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          NASA projects involve basic science.

          The ROI on basic science is so enormous it's difficult to quantify because it's hard to know where to stop. How do you even try to attach a dollar value to the entire Internet and everything it has created and touch in order to answer "What was the ROI of the DoD's investment in ARPANET?" With the corporate sector having, in the last 50 years, become utterly blind to everything more than 3 months out, it's up to the government and associated entities (national labs, unive

      • by khallow (566160)

        I keep seeing the argument of what we get for a dollar funded to NASA. I ask what we get for a dollar funded to professional sports. I get to see some grown man chase all over some field trying to snare a ball.

        You have to consider this from return on investment. For buying an overpriced ticket, you get to see grown men chasing a pigskin. That's huge value compared to typical NASA projects, which while they do somewhat more, also cost a bunch of orders of magnitude more.

        Watching it on TV is even better from the ROI point of view.

        Our society seems to be quickly succumbing to what the economists refer to as "tragedy of the commons", where everybody is in it for themselves regardless of the cost to others. Our government is passing all sorts of laws encouraging "rent seeking" ( ownership benefits ) at the expense of production ( job creation ), leading us into a welfare state. I see big social problems ahead with this leadership model, as the ownership faction will run amok, leading to enormous wealth disparities between those who labor and those who own. We are setting ourselves up for a civil war between the worker and the politician/banker classes.

        I view NASA's activities as contributing to this state of affairs. It's not all their fault. I doubt they would have spread the work of a project over a bunch of congressional districts

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Mars? launch a very large rover for the moon and another to Venus. why the hell are we only looking at one planet?

      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        launch a very large rover for the moon

        The moon's close enough that we shouldn't bother with rovers, unless they're left behind by acutal astronauts..

        another to Venus

        Venus isn't all that interesting since there's no chance for humans visiting it in the forseeable future. And a rover would only survive hours at most. However, placing an airship or balloon probe in Venus' atmosphere (where it could survive for quite a while at the right altitude) might be interesting.

        • The moon's close enough that we shouldn't bother with rovers, unless they're left behind by acutal astronauts..

          If I go to the airport now I can get to Japan by tomorrow, but it still makes more sense for me to FedEx something there than to take it there personally.

  • by scsirob (246572) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:29AM (#46471297)

    Whomever volunteers to go on the first Mars mission should read this article, print it and stable it to the wall.
    Guess what can happen when you are out there, the first glorious conquerors of Mars. You make by with what you have, rely on communication with Earth for guidance and support. Then a bean counter on Earth decides that you are too much of an expense...

    • by hax4bux (209237)

      Time for you to watch "Dark Star"

    • by Immerial (1093103)
      Man, they are going to have one hell of a center piece... "Hey, check out what I found outside." =D
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @05:22AM (#46471657) Homepage

    less than 1% of the Defense budget can run NASA at higher levels. WTF is wrong with the complete MORONS that were elected to be in Congress?

    They want to save money, call all the troops home and end the frigging police actions.

  • It makes sense the NASA budget is tight, they don't have a lot of jobs that can just be handed to anyone's nephew, and its hard to dupe a bunch of engineers into buying expensive equipment they don't need that may or may not even work as intended.

    This makes NASA a piss poor government program from the POV of politicians. What is the point if they can't make some kickbacks or repay a large campaign donation with favors? Duh. This isn't rocket science.

    I bet if they found a reason to buy full body scanners and

    • You should read up on the "Senate Launch System". Pork is alive and well at NASA, in fact it's pretty much destroying the organization. $40 billion for a rocket with nothing to launch and no where to go
  • by plopez (54068) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:28AM (#46472501) Journal

    politicians will

  • lol (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:01AM (#46472815)

    For those that are not aware how this works... Every time there is a new budget proposal, NASA first suggests axing its most popular projects... usually Hubble, but sometimes other things... and they send that up to the hill... Congress panics "They can't shut down Hubble! It's the only sciencey thing we do anymore!!!" and they give NASA a bit more money. It's all part of the game. BTW, you're supposed to write into your congressman angry about how NASA doesn't get enough money right about now. I'm not saying you shouldn't... they really don't get enough money... but you should at least know the game that's getting played.

  • by ks*nut (985334)
    This country pisses away billions of dollars a year funding its war machine and can't fund planetary science which serves as a legacy to be passed down to future generations. It will be very clear in the years ahead where our priorities were.
  • Last year the Obama Administration tried to effectively end planetary exploration at NASA by proposing a 300 million dollar cut. This administration has been the worst for planetary science of any in recent memory.
    • Here is a link: The Obama Administration tried to cut 300 million from planetary science at NASA last year effectively killing exploration: http://www.planetary.org/blogs... [planetary.org] "White house proposes ~$300 million of cuts to Planetary Science in 2013."
  • The Admin tried to cut 300 million from the NASA planetary science budge last year. This Administration is hostile to planetary science. Check the Planetary Society web site for details and he weasel-y things the Admin and NASA/Houston have done to try to kill planetary science.

It's a naive, domestic operating system without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.

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