Oppy under threat as she climbs higher…

… but not, as you might expect, from a savage martian dust storm, or a software failure, or a mechanical glitch. No. Having survived ten years of those, and worse, Opportunity is under threat from these

bean-counter

Bean-counters. Yes, Opportunity’s future seems to be hanging in the balance because, according to the latest NASA budget details, someone has decided that she isn’t worth keeping going after 2015. Those budget request details for that year show $0 available for Opportunity, meaning, basically, that they’re considering simply switching her off to save money.

oliv

Yes, you read that correctly. They are actually considering turning off a perfectly healthy, invaluable robot, exploring the surface of another world, because they don’t think they can afford it. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaws up off the floor, and calm down, ok?

Now, it’s important to bear in mind that this is by no means final, it all has to be discussed and reviewed, etc. But the fact they’re even THINKING about doing it baffles and infuriates me. Seriously? I mean, SERIOUSLY? A Government that is spending god knows how many millions of dollars A DAY on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t find the money to continue to fund what must surely rank as the most successful scientific mission to Mars ever? Are they having a laugh? The US Government, which is run – in theory – by a President who insists, at every opportunity, on telling us how much he loves and supports science, how important it is, how inspiring it is to him and his family, is thinking about pulling the plug on an almost perfectly-healthy robot explorer, which, after driving to and into craters, crossing vast seas of dust and rocks, survived dust storms and everything mars has thrown at it, is now climbing a mountain on Mars looking for traces of ancient clays?

Where the hell did this come from? What the hell is NASA thinking? Why aren’t they up in arms about this? They are seriously thinking of turning off one of the most successful robotic explorers ever built, which has inspired a whole generation of kids, engineers and armchair scientists, and changed our view of Mars, because they say they can’t afford it? Why don’t they stop messing about with all those Powerpoint-fuelled unrealistic fantasy daydreams of mega rockets, asteroid captures and manned Mars fly-bys and use their money sensibly? It’s lunacy.

I hope this will all end up just being shot down, and that the funds needed to keep Opportunity going are found – actually, they don’t have to be “found”, they’re already there, just being wasted on other things – and Opportunity can continue her grand adventure. If they do turn her off, just to save money, history will judge them and their short-sighted stupidity very, very harshly indeed.

On a brighter note, Oppy is now making good progress up Solander Point, and after the recent excitement over “Pinnacle Island” is getting back down to good, basic science and studying some of the more ordinary looking rocks at her feet. To recap quickly, let’s see where Oppy is now, compared to where she landed all those years ago…

Oppy march 14b

And where is she on Solander Point..? Here…

oppy march 14a

She has now driven up to this intriguing gathering of rocks…

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…and is studying it with the instruments on the end of her robot arm…

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Here’s a colour view of some of those rocks…

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See? Not particularly glamourous-looking, those rocks, just… rocks, good old martian rocks… but that’s how science works, anywhere, not just on Mars. The exciting and unusual comes and goes, but often it’s the study of the mundane and ordinary which tells us the most.

Oppy has been doing this for a decade now, with incredible success. I hope she can continue to do it for a long time yet. Of course, Opportunity could fail any day, any moment. Her software could go nuts. A motor could stall. A camera could break. The rover’s mission could be ended by any one of a dozen, a hundred, a thousand unfortunate things. To think of it being ended because NASA can’t find – or step up, grow a pair and fight for – the ridiculously small (by NASA and US Government standards) amount of money needed to keep her going is just heartbreaking and infuriating.

Let’s hope everyone involved sees sense.

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One Response to Oppy under threat as she climbs higher…

  1. I wondered when the day would come that the dork bean-counters at NASA would decide to stop monitoring Oppy. Like you say, Stu, it’s lunacy. Here’s hoping that thinking people prevail at the agency, and that Oppy remains operated until she can’t soldier on any further.

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