Spirit Rover is Switched Off to Save NASA Money (Update)

To save the Mars Expedition Rover (MER) program some cash, controllers will be forced to switch one of the four-year old rovers into “hibernation mode”. NASA wants to cut $4 million from the MER budget, so extreme measures are needed. Sadly, operations will need to be limited and it has been announced today that activities will be stopped on Spirit for the coming weeks. Mission scientists are obviously demoralized.

[UPDATE (03/25/08): NASA has now announced that it has “absolutely no plans” to turn off the Mars rovers, only hours after mission scientists announced they had new directives from the organization to cut $4 million from budget cuts. When more news is forthcoming I will post an article as to what is going on… ]

This appears to be the case of a mission being too successful for its own good.

The MER project was only intended to last for a few months, but the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have surpassed all expectations and continued to explore the planet for four whole years. They are so efficient, that they have braved the worst dust storms, battled through technical issues and even freed themselves from quicksand, there seems to be nothing standing in their way of these super robotic troopers…

Except NASA budget cuts.

When the money runs out, the rovers have to be shut down and this is exactly what is going to happen to Spirit, currently located on a sunny slope at Gusev Crater. Even though the rovers are in the middle of an extensive exploratory phase of the Martian landscape, a NASA directive must be enforced to save $4 million from the project’s $20 million annual budget.

Shutting down Spirit isn’t the only budget-saving measure to be taken. Opportunity’s tasks will now be severely cut; limiting commands to be sent from controllers to every other day, rather than daily.

MER controllers are said to be very demoralized by these measures. Although budget cuts can never come at a “good time”, the timing of this announcement is terrible as both rovers are operating at full strength and still have vast amounts of potential.

The problem is that NASA is currently being stretched to accommodate other Mars missions currently in operation. But when should a highly successful mission like the MER project end? Up till now, most Mars surface missions are good until they break down. In the case of Spirit and Opportunity, neither is showing many signs of breaking. So for now, controllers will have to hover by the “off” switch while budget requirements are met.

Source: PhysOrg.com

52 Replies to “Spirit Rover is Switched Off to Save NASA Money (Update)”

  1. I am sure the worlds greatest manufacturer and dealer in weapons can rake up a few million by curtailing some useless armaments program.

    The contrast in human accountability for funds applied to raise the “Spirit” and knowledge of humanity in space compared to the dark and “evil” armaments industry is mind boggling.

    Not to mention the human accountability and responsibility for resource allocation. We have limited resources to squander.

    Such outstanding creations of human endeavour as these Rovers should be run at maximum advantage.

    We are like lost adventurers trundling across the great plains of space and time and we need every bit of information we can “scout” to make it across.

    Humanity is sailing full speed towards the rocks and this “ship of fools” needs to take a hard look at the consequences of every lost “Opportunity”.

    The problem is…there is no captain at the helm. Either in the USA or on the planet. (except Oprah perhaps…lol)

  2. We stop a valuable research project on another planet because of a lack of $4 million. Just put Iraq on hold for 20 minutes and we won’t have to stop the mission.

  3. This is just wrong,good old U.S. congress,cutting at everything they can as usual, maybe its time we cut off aid to worthless countries and start worring about our education programs and our space programs,maybe some of these politicians should make a donation,this is just the beginning ,it the Apollo program all over, lets just stay on Earth and show our igorance as usual.

  4. Its ridiculous. Four measly million. Look at what athletes are paid. Look at where our government puts money. Into killing and lies. Great, lets shut off “Spirit” That will sure stop our economic troubles!


  5. Let’s think about this, boys and girls. A large team of professionals can arrange for a vehicle to run under remote control on another planet . . . but . . . they can’t think of a way to raise $4 million even though they have access to millions of eyeballs every day. (Ahem!)

    Meanwhile, soldiers in Iraq are playing soccer with bundles of $100 bills.

    What a pity that brains are so limited in their function.

  6. Duane, your Comment is so Dead on the Money it hurts. For crying out loud, we have functional craft in place at this moment available to do research, and they are being shut down for four million dollars? This is ridiculous, and it is worth writing to Congress about.

  7. Almost person grief for spirit; I spent weeks painting (oil) from the first ‘photo’ ever from Mars, Adirondack.. But Spirit ha worked almost into the nano-era, an ongoing scientific miracle. When money by the billions is available to kill, bomb and maim, it is a tragic comment on ‘Leadership’ priorities than creative endeavour, symbolized by Spirit, can be doused for budget policies.

  8. We should find a way to keep the rovers going. I’m writing my congressman EVERY SINGLE DAY until he gets so sick of me he can’t stand it and votes for funds.

  9. This really makes me sick. I have followed the success of these two rovers since the beginning and have just been amazed what they have been doing and the data they have produced. Shutting the program down for $4,000,000? Isn’t that what Shaq makes playing basketball in about a week? Shoot, it takes $1,000,000 a day to run one aircraft carrier. Take it out of operations for a week and send that money to NASA! The good news I guess is that we are on our way back to Mars and there will be plenty more rovers to watch.

  10. Tough times call for tough measures. Let’s call Oprah! or any other celebrity for that matter. I assume there could be at least one that favors space science instead of the oft debunked global warming.

  11. It is a pity, but we really can’t cry foul over this. The rover missions have been extended, well past what they were originally budgeted for, a long time ago, and anyone who has ever had to live within a specific and limited budget can understand that eventually, the numbers will force your hand.

    I applaud NASA for finding the money to fund the rovers as long as they have; no doubt there were some in government (and within NASA!) who were shouting to shut down the rovers at the end of their original mission 4 years ago.

    Be content: they have served us well, and more and better missions are coming. This is the way it should be. We should look forward to the future missions.

  12. Well, if everyone is so disgusted then why don’t you raise the 4 million! Its only 4 million. Someone has to be responsible for the bottom line.

  13. This project was a waste of time and money to begin with (but not as much time and money as endeavors to put people on Mars). The project has outlived its plans and expectations, stop throwing more money at it.

  14. 12 Billion a month in Iraq and we cant get a stinking 4 million to keep a successful mission going?

    I think I am going to be sick.

  15. NASA’s budget is in the many billions per year. How many years have we been doing this and what have we got to show for it? Not much of a return for the investment.

  16. Outrageously ridiculous decision.

    If they are not interested in using the Rovers, they can
    at least transfer the command centrer to whoever wants to operate them. After all many countries tried to send landers in the surface of mars and most attempts ended with a crash!

  17. All of you people whining about government waste in other places have no poblem with THIS government waste because it is YOUR government waste. This program far outlived expectations. Let’s move on and invest the resources in other projects.

  18. Scott, what do you suggest? Surely you have an idea. This is a waste because of the money already spent in infrastructure – the hard part has already been done. It’s like buying a car, expecting it to last 3 years and at 10 years you stop using it because it needs an oil change. I’d rather spend 4 million on this then 4 million on a single smart bomb.

    Perhaps Paul Allen will fund this.

  19. Winston, it may be non-productive for you, but what about the pure discovery? Humans (many of them, anyway) have always been about seeing what’s over the next hill, or past the next island. If the choice was purely an investment, then discovery would never take place – just stay put, invest in what you already know.

    Strange choice, too in that this regime, despite its many glaring problems, had previously been a friend to the space program. It was one of the few positives one could point to.

  20. I agree that I’d like to see the project continue, and I’m sure the $4 million can be found.

    However, everyone please get a grip, and stop using the strawman argument of military spending. It’s purely emotional, and won’t hold water with ANY politician in Washington. The two budgets are totally separate, so quit thinking we can “borrow” $4 million from one to pay for the other. Won’t happen. If you want to write your congressman (or woman), do so in a constructive way. In order to get results, it would help to “play the game” according to the current rules. Of course, changing the rules is a noble goal, but would take too long to help Spirit.

  21. I think my other friends who have posted comments have summed up my feelings. However, I still want to vent. This really sucks. This is absolute stupidity. We have two functioning multi-million-dollar mobile labs that are still producing science. I don’t get it. Some goofball wants to stop it because they want to save 4 million bucks to invest in future missions that do not have any guarantee of success??? That makes a helluva lot of sense now, doesn’t it. With that logic, we might as well take the 4 million and go to Vegas and gamble. This has to rank as one of the biggest blunders of all time. Imagine if we all used the same logic in our daily decision making. “Hmmm, I have something that works and is producing something that I need and value. I think I will stop it so that I can save money toward future projects that are not even completed yet.” The future is not certain. We don’t even know if future budgets will allow for uncompleted missions and projects to be completed. But it’s so comforting to know that we can spend money and resources in bailing out failed speculative investors like Bear Stearns and justify just about every other governmental spending project while seemingly ignoring our 9 trillion dollar debt. I am completely outraged.

  22. What science has it produced lately? I’m as upset about this as anyone, but NASA cannot continue to function if it doesn’t share that science with the general public. There is absolutely NO excitement what-so-ever getting generated. Why is that? We’re too stuck on Brittany Spears bawling on the curb?

    The same goes for the ISS. We have all these new modules producing “Science”. Where is this reported? What has it discovered? Why is it the only time I heard of any successful science in space was when the story of Columbia was broadcast? Why does it take a tragedy for us to learn what great things they accomplished in their 16 days of space?

    This is a true tragedy of our time. We have ceased to “wonder” as a society. We have ceased to “dream” about exploration. Pass the carmel corn while we watch the next episode of Judge Judy.


  23. It just seems to me that a working project is more valueable than a future one… Can we pull the $4 million from another mission not off the ground yet?

    However, this $4 million only covers the rest of this year. What happens in the FY09 budget, where they are short $10+ million? Unfortunetly, this is just one of those things that happens during budget cuts.

    It is a shame, however, that one of the most successful landing missions of all time, which has actually captured the hearts of some non-space people, will be shut down for a time. Couldn’t we take the extra million from the outer planets program scheduled for FY09? I can’t imagine the few million would make a whole lot of difference there. While the money would make a HUGE difference on the MERs.


  24. Can’t they get some kind of sponsorship deal? $4Mill is such small-beer it’s shocking that they can’t find it. It’s pocket-change for any large corporation

  25. If it were 4 billion dollars, I would understand it. But to shut down a successful research program for 4 million is not a sound decision.
    And yes, I think comparisons with money spent in a war is fair – after all, today’s military technology is developed on the basis of lots of research, space-research included. But I guess such logic escapes the key people.
    Those who say that the MER program is a waste of time and money couldn’t be more wrong. As someone who’s followed these missions from the landing, I can safely say there’s more scientific discovery been going on through this program than in several research labs combined. But the ways research and findings about other planets influences us here on Earth is another topic.

  26. I’m absolutely disgusted. Just put the f***ing war in Iraq on hold for a few just a few minutes, there will be plenty of money to pay for the rovers until they die naturally.

    Dubya sucks.

  27. I am obviously uninformed and naive regarding this, but what exactly is costing $20 Million a year to keep this project going? The rovers are already there. Does it really cost that much to communicate with these things?

  28. This is cool stuff. I like the “Let’s fund it ourselves” concept. If Frasier says “O.K.” I’ll send him a hundred bucks. There’s GOT to be 39,999 other astronomy fans out there that would go along.

  29. $4million.. hell, Bush spent more than that by nearly an order of magnitude on his “re-election” campaign! One of the damn baptists churches was able to raise that in a day for Huckabee…

    Bloody hell people, get your priorities right! This program is a brilliant success, and is producing insights into Mars on an almost daily basis But they cancel it?

    What, is NASA being run by FOX TV network executives now?

    Oh, and for those carping about “what good is it”, how about this:
    ” The understanding of geophysical processes have already contributed to greatly enhancing our ability to understand rock formation, and indirectly, enhance our ability to locate oil.”
    Recent NASA press release

    Stick that in your SUV.

  30. > Winston, it may be non-productive for
    > you, but what about the pure discovery?

    I have no problem with pure discovery. But do it with private dollars, not my tax dollars, okay?

    If there’s something worthwhile to profit on this, let someone else do the investing, and they can reap the benefits too.

    Mars is simply a vast wasteland that always will be (unless you count the population of Bigfooot there).

    > just stay put, invest in what you already
    > know.

    Investments should have a positive economic impact. How much has been invested? How much benefit has been seen.?

  31. Do you use a phone to communicate to other parts of the world? Do you watch TV. Do you listen to the weather? Have you ever used Velcro. How was America discovered? Hint: Exploration. Do you drive a car? Do you use resources? Hint: All of these things are made possible because of the space program. Satellites find new resources. Satellites help us observe the weather. Space program is important in national defense. Planetary exploration teaches us much about our own planet. Would it not be interesting to you to find life elsewhere in the universe? It would tell us a lot about ourselves. Settling other worlds in the future is a way to give humans a backup plan in case we screw ourselves here. Many reasons to fund space exploration, you just need to think about it.

    Read Carl Sagan’s insights here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot

    Enough ranting. Seems a waste to turn off a spacecraft after spending all the effort and overcoming all the obstacles to getting there. Many landers never make it. I’m guessing there will be enough pressure to get Spirit back up and running soon.

  32. Well, it looks like the program will still be funder.

    Solo convinced me (isn’t he that gay guy from Star Trek?). I made a few calls and had them change their minds.

  33. Come on NASA and USA get yer act together and stop messing about, ‘call this a space programme this is not a space programme its a joke…’ (Apollo-gises to Capt Lockheed). You can afford the $4m laike some one said put Iraq on hold for 20 minutes…

    (thought. Wonder what happend to the NASA project to sell scrap metel that lying around Cape C…..)

  34. I’d rather see the 4 million spent on this than the silly war against WMD’s. Did we ever find those?

  35. Those WMDs are actually hidden on Mars. The Bigfoot captured in that Mars photo is really an Al Quada operative who was moving them to a new location.

  36. That is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day.
    $4M is all – what has been spent on the war and what was the return on that investment?

    Waste and government are like two peas in a pod.

    One senators lifetime pension ($250,000.00/yr – for entire lifetime) should cover it.

    I am tired of poor leadership and even poorer decisions. It’s time for change. Knowledge about the Universe is more important than a buck in one persons pocket!

  37. It could be worse, they could be shutting both rovers off. I’m sure we could find the money by cancelling some congressman’s “EARMARK”. The Government should be spending our money on something that many of us actually want and indirectly benfeits all of us, rather then wasting the money. Remember all those FEMA trailers from Katrina ? It is time to replace The Government !

  38. Usually, space exploration is executed that way:
    A spacecraft is designed and built for hundreds of millions of dollars such that it can perform a certain set of tasks. You bring it into space, activate it and hope that it performs fine and will do exactly the sophisticated job it was designed to do. And if it has done so, you build the next spacecraft for hundreds of millions of dollars, based on the results and the findings obtained from its predecessor, to reach out for the next step.

    Spirit and Opportunity were intended to last within the martian environment for up to three months. But to the amazement of the public and the space engeneering society and beyond, these craft survived and performed in that environment 16 times longer than designed, and they still are in a very good shape.
    As the two rovers performed 16 times longer than was scheduled by their mission designers, the cost of their operation has grown to more than 16 times the cost planned when these rovers were brought to Mars.
    If you want to foster the replacement process of a craft, this task is difficult to accomplish if the craft to be replaced simply refuses to fail. If we want to promote the next generation of rovers, one has to accept that measures have to be taken.

    Space exploration is a means to support and strengthen the space industry. Of course, it is also about science. But its main objective is building spacecraft, not running spaceraft forever, once they are built. And I think doing things this way makes sense.



  39. marcellus Says:
    March 25th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    This is cool stuff. I like the “Let’s fund it ourselves” concept.

    Actually, I think that this COULD actually be a goer! I’d be more than happy to drop a few % of my pay into some sort of NASA or ESA ‘fund’ to help with the cost of space missions. I’m absolutely positive, based on the opinions of friends and colleagues, that many others would too. Lots of people derive a great amount of pleasure from the findings and results of space exploration and science missions – in a way it’s akin to a hobby (or an obsession), so I think many would be willing to forgo a little pay for their passion.

    Even if it was only a few % of members of all of the astronomy clubs around the world who contributed a few % of their annual pay packet, we’d quickly have a substantial amount of dough to throw behind projects. In reality I think there would be more than that flowing – those are fairly conservative estimates I imagine. Of course, such a system would raise its own issues like to which projects funds are distributed, but these could be worked out. The fundamental idea remains strong in my opinion.

  40. No se supone que este país es el ejemplo de la democracia en el mundo? que le pregunten a la gente si quieren gastar sus impuestos en armas, guerra, mentiras y asesinatos o en explorar y conocer mejor el universo, en aprender y valorar mas ese hermoso y unico recurso terrestre: la vida… a que no hacen un ejercicio de democracia, al menos alguna vez…

  41. A side thought to those of you who think we are going to set-up a permanent base on the moon, forget it, it aint going to happen. Technically we can do it, bureaucratically, we are really screwed I’d like to remind both the serious thinkers and sci-fi dreamers that our government, specifically NASA, is typically operated very much like FEMA and the Home Land Security bunch Do you remember those infallible agencies and the efficacious jobs they are doing? What is required for the advancement of science is clearly more intelligence, at the top on down, in the critical areas of money and project management that will make a difference. This (MER) nonsense is just the tip of the iceburg.

  42. If life started on Mars. Isn’t there a possibility that beneath parts of Mars there are vast fields of gas and oil waiting to be found.

    There you are. Now there will be no shortage of funds. JD.

  43. Good one Aqualung . . perhaps we could find a photo of “Noah’s Ark” sitting out on Cydonia, or a bunch of rocks in the shape of a Grail.

  44. Hey everyone! Just what do you expect from the bunch of bureaucratic scienticically boarder-line illiterates making these wild decisions? We clearly require a higher level of common sense and intelligence within the government agencies that directly affect the advancement of science. Make certain you get out and vote for change this November. Gawd! Do we need change!

  45. It is interesting to note that the Spirit was the rover that captured the image of the “Bigfoot” on Mars…and is now being shut down weeks later.


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