Grrr, NASA

CNN reports that NASA is cutting back the Mars Rovers’ team budget, which will likely result in Spirit sitting catatonic until funding comes back (yeah, right):

NASA officials have directed the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program to cut $4 million dollars from its approximately $20 million dollar budget this year, and principal investigator Steve Squyres tells CNN that will likely mean science operations will have to be suspended for Spirit. The rover would be put in hibernation mode, and if all goes well it could be reactivated in the future in the event funding is restored.

Hey, congress, are you listening?  I’d like to donate my income taxes for the year to the Mars Rover folks.  Please?

[Update: Yay, looks like funding for the rovers will not be cut after all.  Hey, Congress, can I have my income taxes back now please?]

Steve Squyres Visits

Yesterday at work, Steve Squyres came to give a talk to the company's research group, but anyone could attend. So, I quickly made sure my calendar wasn't booked at the time and immediately blocked it off so I could attend. Having just finished his book ( Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet , ISBN 1401301495) and having followed the EDL phase and subsequent rovings of Spirit and Opportunity, I figured this was a once in a lifetime shot to hear him speak.

For those of you that aren't as NASA-nerdy as I am, Steve Squyres is the PI of the MER team that put Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in January 2004.

Steve talked and showed some truly breathtaking photography. He got asked the same question I posted about back in February 2004 about a mechanism to knock dust of the solar panels, and gave the same answer as I've heard all the other times I've seen it responded to.

Definitely an amazing talk, and I highly recommend reading the book.

nasa responds (not directly, but, well)

Back in February I posted my nasa deep thought about why they didn't put blowers/wipers on the mars rovers… I got to ask one of the NASA scientists during a talk recently at Texas A&M, and then this morning I pull up CNN. There's an article about the rovers getting their lives extended. Then there it is, in paragraph 6:

Steve Squyres, the Mars rovers principal investigator, said the rovers' designers deemed the additional weight of adding wipers or blowers to the solar panels was not worthwhile. Instead they increased the size of the panels to maximize the power input.

my nasa deep thought

So, all the talk is that this heater problem on the Opportunity Martian rover will eventually cause problems because the solar panels onboard will become sufficiently dusty that they won't generate enough power to keep up with the drain of this malfunctioning 15W heater.

My question: This rover is golf-cart sized, can rove around, take amazing pictures, has an arm that can drill into rock and analyze what the rock is made of… How difficult would it have been to put a feather duster on this arm to clean off the solar panels? Or maybe a fan blowing the little bit of martian atmosphere over the panels… If the dust is being blown there, can't it just be blown off?

free shrimp!

From Space.Com's Astronotes from January 19th:

An Ocean on Mars Puts Food in Your Gullet

If we didn't have a reason to root for NASA's twin rover Mars missions before, we do now. The two robots could win free food for everyone in the United States if they can find evidence of ocean water on the red planet.

Officials with Long John Silver's, a national seafood restaurant chain based in Louisville, Kentucky, have told NASA they will provide free giant shrimp to customers if the space agency's two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, detect conclusive signs of Martian ocean water.

The Spirit rover is already on Mars and Opportunity is set to land on Jan. 24. Since both robots run on solar power, they would not enjoy any free shrimp.

“We have closely followed NASA's recent exploration of Mars and all of us are rooting you on to find ocean water on the red planet,” wrote Long John Silver's president Steve Davis in a letter to NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. “The free giant shrimp offer is our way of saying NASA's exploration of Mars and the discovery of ocean water would be 'one small step for man, one giant leap for seafood.'”

In his letter, Davis also told O'Keefe of his interest for Long John Silver's to become the first seafood restaurant on Mars once humans are living there permanently.

Should Spirit or Opportunity actually find evidence of ocean water on Mars before Feb. 29 of this year, Long John Silver's restaurants will provide free giant shrimp at on March 15 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The seafood chain has taken out an insurance policy to cover the cost of free shrimp in the event they have to make good on their offer.

“If there's ocean water on Mars, that would be giant news,” said Mike Baker, chief marketing officer for Long John Silver's. “And giant news calls for giant shrimp!”

Makes me wish someone that actually had good seafood would get behind this. 🙂