New York Times Calls $2.5 Billion Mars Curiosity Rover a "Tidbit"

New York Times Calls $2.5 Billion Mars Curiosity Rover a "Tidbit" Editorial Commentary

In a news story today, the New York Times bemoans the cut to robotic Mars exploration plans, adding that “There are still a few tidbits left.”   It identifies the “tidbits” as the Mars Curiosity rover currently enroute to Mars and the MAVEN mission scheduled for launch next year.

Curiosity hopefully will make a successful landing on Mars in August, though the novel “sky crane” landing system will have everyone biting their nails during descent.  Twice as long and five times as heavy as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers already on Mars, Curiosity is the size of a mini Cooper and designed to roll over obstacles up to two feet high. Its scientific equipment is 10 times more massive than the earlier rovers. Not to mention — and the New York Times does not — that its life cycle cost is $2.5 billion, a 56 percent overrun according to NASA’s Inspector General.  That’s quite a tidbit.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is indeed a less ambitious mission.  An orbiter rather than a lander, it will try to determine what caused “the Martian atmosphere — and water — to be lost to space.”   GAO reports that MAVEN will cost $671 million.  That may be a tidbit in comparison to Curiosity, but certainly not to the average American taxpayer.

Across the land, everyone wants to cut the deficit — as long as it’s not THEIR program that suffers as a result.   It is certainly fair for the Mars community to fight for their program; that’s how the game is played.  One would hope, however, that the news media would refrain from picking favorites except on their editorial pages.   For that matter, what program(s) would the New York Times prefer to have cut instead, or does it believe that NASA should be exempt from cuts?  That is a weighty question on which the esteemed newspaper probably should comment. 

In the meantime, with all due respect, calling a $2.5 billion Mars rover a “tidbit” is laughable.