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NASA, the Mars Rover and a Comic Tribute

January 29th, 2010

That would be NASA and not Pixar.

There has been science in the news this week.  It hasn’t been great, but even the worst news sometimes has a silver lining.  And I think that’s the case here with both stories.

President Obama’s budget proposals in his first year have been science heavy.  His 2009 budget gave bumps to several science-focused departments and additional programs, granted NASA stimulus money and tried to find room for a return to the moon by 2020.

Not withstanding my belief that Obama cares more about science than the recently departed government CEO, he’s pretty much been forced to end his support of it this year.  Particularly with NASA, the spending freeze he’s instituting is gutting science.  On Monday, he’s expected to announce that he’s killed the Moon 2020 plan and it looks to move to commercialize and privatize space flight [There’s a joke to be made here that he’s finally found one industry sector he doesn’t want to socialize].

This is not, however, to say that the President has killed NASA.  Quite to the contrary, I think he’s merely made an amputation of the fully government-controlled space flight program in an effort to save the corpus as a whole.  He’s proposing to grant the ISS several more years of life and I’m confident he might try to find a way to extend the Hub and other observational satellites, which are the stuff of scientific magic.  Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a dark day when you realize that manned flight (that which contributes the most to a child’s imagination) is taking the brunt of the hit.

All this comes just two days after the true-life Wall-E story of the robot that just wouldn’t quit.  The Mars rover Spirit is almost 1900 days past its scheduled run of 90 days of operation.  Unfortunately, much as with me golf courses, you don’t want to get stuck in a sand trap on Mars.  That’s exactly what Spirit did this past week.  Spirit is now permanently in said trap but remains scientifically operational.  There’s a long winter ahead for it, but it’s done its service to America and humanity at large, and it appears it will continue to do so, at least for the time being.

XKCD put together a great tribute cartoon for Spirit which I’ve linked after the jump.

Courtesy of www.xkcd.com

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