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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Mars Opportunity Cost

For those of us who have been following Spirit and Opportunity's mission on Mars, this is good news. Opportunity is on the move again:

Scientists free Mars rover Opportunity from sand dune, AP: The Mars rover Opportunity resumed rolling freely across the Martian surface Saturday after scientists freed it from a sand dune where it had been mired for nearly five weeks … ''We've got a working rover on Mars that cost $400 million to build and ... keep working,'' project manager Jim Erickson said. ''I'd like to wear it out rather than lose it.'' … Opportunity's wheels started slipping April 26 during a planned 295-foot trip. While trying to drive over a foot-high sand dune, the robotic explorer stopped moving, its wheels hub-deep in soft soil. … But on Saturday morning, data showed that Opportunity was free at last and had moved several feet across the dune. …

If you are interested, the JPL home page is here, and the rover home page is here.  Please don't tell anyone, but I bought 3-D glasses from the JPL list (I ordered two pair for a dollar here). It’s kind of embarrassing to be seen wearing them at school, so I close and lock my office door when I put them on, and hide them in a drawer at other times, but the 3D images are great. The raw images here are good too and there are new pictures almost daily. I like the microscopic and panoramic images the most. I still haven’t spotted any fossils, but I'll keep looking.

I obviously get a lot out of the Mars rover missions and pretty much all that NASA does and would like to see more space exploration, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Spirit and Opportunity alone cost over 800 million dollars and that is a small part of what NASA does. The budget for 2005 is 16.2 billion dollars. Is space exploration worth the opportunity cost? My answer is yes.

Fram Crater

Inside Endurance Crater

Fram Crater in 3D

Burns Cliff

Microscopic Image

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