Monday, March 24, 2008

R.I.P. Rovers

The Bush/Cheney administration, in yet another demonstration of its contorted priorities, is cutting off funding for NASA's Mars Rovers. These two 'bots have been successfully exploring our twin planet since January 2004, producing solid science as well as stunning panoramas of the Martian sky and landscape.

It sounds like a done deal, even though the Rovers have proven their worth by exceeding their predicted three-month lifespans by more than four years. They offer real scientific value for the relatively low cost of $20 million per year. Yet Bush would rather send astronauts to Mars at an estimated cost of $230 billion over the next twenty years. Go figure. Bush has also proposed a costly base for astronauts on the moon, to be (conveniently) financed by his successors.

Launching humans into space is prohibitively expensive, especially considering the desperate and obvious needs on earth. But wandering robots on Mars and other planets are a sound and relatively small investment in basic science, and the construction (by robots) of a large array of radio telescopes on the far side of the moon also seems like a solid long-term goal.

Abandoning the Rovers would be yet another unforgivable blunder. After all, Mars is the only other planet that might be capable of supporting life once our species has finally rendered the earth uninhabitable.

Be sure to sit back and spend a few minutes watching Martian clouds drift by while you still have the chance.

[H/T to Tristero at Hullabaloo.]

PHOTO: Exploration Rover Spirit's panorama of the West Valley. It landed near the horizon in the center of this picture. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.)

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