The brave, unflagging Mars rover Spirit, who has lived on the Red Planet for almost four years, has been given a death sentence by the U.S. government. Right now, the little robot is resting on a sunny slope, waiting out the winter and preparing to do more tests on the Martian atmosphere. But now it looks like Spirit has rolled on its six wheels and done science experiments for the very last time. The U.S. government has forced NASA, this country's national space agency, to cut its budget by 4 million dollars. And that means only one rover, Opportunity, will survive. To say that this is a tragedy is an understatement.
The Mars rovers have been one of NASA's most proud achievements, and the information they gather today can help future planetary colonists tomorrow. While NASA is planning to land another rover on Mars within the next year, it's a shame to shut down a perfectly serviceable rover that could be supplementing what the new rover will learn.
With the Earth population skyrocketing, and urban overcrowding only likely to get far worse over the coming decades, preparing to colonize other plants should be more of a priority than ever. And every time we shut down a NASA program like the rovers, we step backward, away from the goal of leaving Earth. We also hinder our search for knowledge beyond this planet.
If I thought that money being cut from NASA's budget were going to developing renewable energy or bettering urban environments, I wouldn't be quite so pissed off. At least in that case, the money would be going toward building a better future Earthside. But it's not. Instead it's being used to bail out Bear Stearns.
Why doesn't a philanthropist like Bill Gates or Paul Allen step forward and write a check to save Spirit?
Spirit is an awesome robot, with awesome developers and operators at NASA, who braved the elements and mechanical problems to help advance our understanding of Martian geochemistry and atmosphere. The U.S. government should be ashamed that it has effectively killed fifty percent of its only science lab on another planet.
Above, you can see a picture Spirit took of its own tracks in the dust.
Kthxbai, Spirit, kthxbai.
UPDATE: NASA has just confirmed that the rovers will NOT be shut down! Hooray! [AP via Yahoo! News]
NASA Cut Means No More Roving for Mars Rover [AP via PhysOrg]