When I walk into the SOWG room, I'm startled to see Steve Squyres sitting there. Turns out he's out here so he and John Callas can meet with the NASA bigwigs about another round of funding for the mission. I wish him well, of course, and I ask, "Is it going to be harder now that Spirit's down a wheel?"
"The Spirit site is awesome!" Steve exclaims. "There's a whole class of science you can only do sitting in one place, and we've never done it at the Gusev site. No, no, we've got a great story to tell. It's just that there's only so much money to go around." And they might cut one of the rovers in order to save that money. Ulp.
He also tells me Rob Sullivan was thrilled with the MIs we took yesterday. "Rob was really, really psyched when those MIs came down -- you shoulda been there." Which is always nice to hear. Rob's a super-nice guy, and I like it when he's happy with the science we get for him.
The SOWG is over in 13 minutes -- shorter than an engineering keepout, as somebody points out -- and we're off. As we're wrapping up, everyone takes a moment to wish Steve good luck.
But Brenda's not worried. "If Steve Squyres can't get people excited about Mars, then the world is coming to an end."
"That's not the issue," Steve says modestly. "The blood's running ankle-deep at headquarters."
"Yeah," Matt Keuneke chimes in, "they'll be like, 'No funding unless you find a dinosaur bone.' And then they'll probably ask, 'How big is the bone?'"
Well, that's reassuring.
After the usual back-and-forth with Tim Parker and Matt Golombek, Paolo and I plan a 52m drive, including the autonav chunk at the end. Quite respectable progress, if it works out.
As we're wrapping up, Steve returns from the long meeting with the money men. "I went in thinking they're thinking the easy thing to do is to cut Spirit. So I hit Spirit so hard, one of the scientists asked whether we should shut down Opportunity." He grins wickedly. "Then I showed 'em Victoria Crater."
He sighs. "I expect there will be belt-tightening and cuts, but I expect we will have two rovers for the next year and a half."
That funding will have to come from somewhere, and it might end up coming from one of the other Mars missions. Steve offers his opinions on where that cut should be, should it absolutely have to be made. "If it were up to me and I had to cut one, I'd cut the U.S. participation in Mars Express. MEX can live without us. Then I'd cut MGS. MGS is not that great, with just the one camera working -- Odyssey can do everything MGS can, plus -- but MGS is doing great science and MOC is a great camera, and it would be a shame to lose any of it."
[Next post: sol 842, May 17.]