NASA’s Mars exploration rover, Spirit, stalled during its mission on its 18th day on the red planet. “We have a very serious situation,” said Jet project manager for Spirit Pete Theisinger in a news release Wednesday.
Spirit is only one half of the total $820-million mission that NASA launched. Its twin, Opportunity, is scheduled to land on Mars on Saturday. So, is all the money NASA’s spending to explore this unknown territory truly worth it? The complications so far make it appear that it hasn’t been. Their time and money seems to have been spent on new projects, when one of our most useful mechanisms, the Hubble Telescope, is soon to be defunct. In the long run though, the investment will pay off.
According to The Associated Press, after the Spirit missed several scheduled sessions to communicate, NASA began to explore the possibilities of what could have gone wrong. Initially, scientists believed thunderstorms near an antenna in Canberra, Australia could have caused the glitch they were experiencing. Now the consensus is that the rover could be experiencing software or hardware problems — both of which should leave the Spirit with enough power to allow time for NASA to recover its full control of the rover. However, no full explanation considered up to now can fit all of the observed events. Since Wednesday, Spirit has only transmitted a few occasional beeps instead of the expected high-resolution photographs in response to Earth’s numerous attempts to communicate.
While there is potential of the twin rovers to provide valuable information to scientists, the process of getting rid of an already functional piece of machinery is already in process. The Hubble has provided us with fascinating pictures of the universe and galaxies since April of 1990. With President Bush’s withdrawal of support for one of the most invaluable science projects ever undertaken in the world, the enormous “eye in the sky,” will soon be gone forever.
The Times of India reports that during the past 14 years the Hubble has sent lasting impressions of fluorescent bursts of hazy color and offered insight on polar caps and magnetic fields producing auroras. It also offers a glimpse of events that happened thousands of years ago as light from far reaches of the universe is hitting its lenses only now.
However, they soon will be no longer available. Robert Williams, former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, told the Times, “Statistically speaking, we will have 2.5 more years of the Hubble.”
Even though new projects like the rovers could potentially be useful in science exploration, our reliable tools are being overlooked. It seems as though the goal to be the best and the first at everything is taking precedence over scientific projects, instead of considering what is useful now.
While NASA should continue to focus on making newer and bolder strides, it should not let the tried and true ones fall by the wayside.