NASA's newest Mars rover faces further hurdles and could require another $44 million in funds before it is ready for launch this fall, according to an agency audit announced today.
The Mars Science Laboratory is supposed to launch in a window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the alignment between Earth and Mars is the most favorable for an interplanetary trip. But as it stands now, the MSL team won't finish all their work before launch unless they get more money, according to an internal audit prepared by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.
"The project may have insufficient funds to complete all currently identified tasks prior to launch and may therefore be forced to reduce capabilities, delay the launch for 2 years, or cancel the mission," he wrote.
If the mission is delayed, NASA will have to spend at least $570 million to adjust mission plans to account for a new planetary alignment, not to mention the advent of the Martian summer. A Martian year is almost double the length of an Earth year, so if MSL lands in late 2013 instead of this fall, it will be just in time for a warming Martian atmosphere to stir up dust storms.
This won't be as problematic for Curiosity as it was for Spirit and Opportunity, because the new rover is nuclear-powered rather than solar-powered. But still, dust storms could interrupt its sensitive instruments, as well as its ability to communicate with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Deep Space Network on Earth.
The rover's life cycle costs are already expected to top a whopping $2.5 billion, partly because it is so huge and so complex. Curiosity is four times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity, and it contains 10 sensitive science instruments designed to look for signs of Martian life. It is designed to land using a complicated sky-crane tether system, the most complicated extraterrestrial landing maneuver NASA has ever attempted.
Launch was already delayed once — the rover was initially supposed to launch between September and October 2009, but several instruments were delivered late and NASA had to move its window back two years. Extra infusions of cash, most recently $71 million in December 2010, have kept the project humming along, but there are apparently still several issues — as of February, there were still 1,200 reports of problems and failures that could cause a delay, including contamination issues with the rover's soil analysis instruments, and delays in flight software and fault protection systems.
The good news is that the rover is fully built, according to the audit. But apparently the work is far from over.
How is this an argument of ANY KIND!
look at the number. its clear as day.
40 million now or
530 million later
2400 million total. What is 40 million going to matter.
I know its not the cold war, but we are in a space race right now...
I have one question? How much do presidential candidates spend on their campaign. Thats what I thought. 100`s of millions.
And look at all that money that people gave to john edwards just for him to cheat on his dying wife.
There you go, have 1 less idiot running for president (they have 10 or more that spend that kind of money every 4 years) and you have your cash.
Ironically Congress had cut the NASA 2011 budget by $241 million.
while nasa keeps complaining about funding & dragging its ass you can almost guarantee china will be 1st nation to set foot on mars;
honestly nasa needs to stop relying on govt. funding & open up more to private commercial sector, i can bet there's lots of people such as richard branson who would luv to get some sort of sponsorship of mars rovers; maybe could have some virgin galactic decals or david letterman racing could sponsor tyres;or weta digital could sponsor cameras
Hope she, MSL, gets the extra funding she already cost over 6 times more than Opportunity, we have been waiting way too long for this to happen -- another two years will be devastating.
I proposed a easier and less costly way to land the Mars Science Lab over the proposed Skycrane at the Mars Society Conference in 2007 called the Skyclimber see here:
PDF Presentation here:
@Ron - It would cost more than $40 million for a re-design.
Maybe, if the government stopped cutting NASA's budget, then we would have a decent space program by now. I'm a USA citizen. Can I fire the entire senate and replace them with people who care about science?
The biggest waste of money for an already lean NASA budget is spending billions on a single rover mission when you still have two on the ground. (spirit and opportunity) one of which is still operational. Sure this new rover is better but I could think of much higher priorities in space.
FACT: We spend over $300,000,000 a DAY on our military. A dollar for every person living in the U.S, daily. We can't give that a little cut for human progress??
Nasa should put a fund raising post up on Kickstarter lol no seriously I bet there are enough science enthusiasts that they could raise 40 million.
Heck just ask everyone to donate 50 cents to it I bet 80 million americans would donate 50 cents.
i guess war/military weapons are more important to the US than space and the future of humanity.
@Jondroot you should look up the rover before you bash it. It has TEN times the instruments and experiments as the other rovers. Its nearly 4 times the size as well.
One of this rovers MAIN missions will be to survey and determine MAN viability on the planet. this rover is a key step to landing an American on mars.
@BaPef you are right. Its a shame we cant have some say so into where our taxes go. I love our military, but do we really need to spend a billion dollars to see if they can turn a Humve into a VTOL??? yes that is a REAL darpa project. Man on mars or Humvee helio?
@inaka_rob...spot on, fund the damn thing already, even with the waste in nasa (it is gov't run, after all) these are still the best spent tax dollars, hands down
When they use solar panels they should make it possible for the rover to dust them off. It's crazy that Spirit and Opportunity couldn't do that. They had to actually hope for Martian wind.
no need to hope for martian wind
hey popsci, how about fixin' your f3ckin' blog screener!