More Mars Madness
Late last week I blogged about the possibility that NASA may shut down the Mars Rovers, and noted how these decisions are as much economic and political as technical. Yesterday, over at NASA Watch, they make a salient observation: After quoting from both AP and CNN, they contend that JPL is spinning.
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.
So why would they do that? It’s because JPL is also doing the MSL, which is far over budget, greatly behind schedule, and sucking cash from NASA. The Rover’s success and popularity make them attractive assets to be leveraged.
Perhaps the word “hostage” is a better choice.
There are good arguments on both sides. The economic one is that shutting down one of the Rovers saves $4 Million, and since it’s already past it’s shelf-life (and is very crippled to boot), almost no science will be lost. The other side of that coin is $4 Million out of $200 Million already spent on the MSL is nothing (and does next to nothing). This is throwing good money after bad and rewarding JPL for going over budget.
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.
NASA has been in this position for as long as I can remember.