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Mars Observer Failure

September 02, 1993

* No one in America feels worse about the Mars Observer problems than the employees of JPL. The thing that bothers me most is the implication that the "billion dollar" cost of the project has been thrown down a hole and is a total waste--at taxpayer expense. Yes, interplanetary space missions are expensive. But this is not a case comparable to the S&L crisis, where people's hard-earned savings were squandered on bad loans.

Looked at economically, the money spent on a space program, almost every nickel of it, is paid, directly or indirectly, to someone in wages. The billion dollars attributed to Mars Observer did not go only to engineers and scientists. It also went into the pay envelopes of technicians, support personnel and office workers at JPL and the community, and paid taxes, some of which went to support government programs to help the poor, the environment and the budget deficit.

This expenditure for Mars Observer is not thievery from the American public. The managers and workers at JPL are modest and dedicated people who labor under the impression that they have a mandate from the American people to explore the solar system. There are no $1,000 ashtrays at JPL. Most workers work in 8-foot-by-8-foot cubicles with partitions.

At JPL we are devastated by this turn of events. But I hope that the American public will recognize that in the end, we may have lost a spacecraft and some immediate science, but that we have contributed to the development of technology and the possibility of longer-term scientific benefits.


Technical Writer Specialist

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

* Over the last eight years or so we've been building a spacecraft to go up and look at Mars. It was cold metal and mirrors but it was our child. We considered and planned and then created it ourselves, we scientists, secretaries, programmers, engineers and technicians, and we learned a lot along the way just as a regular human parent does in raising a child.

We mourn the loss of Mars Observer. So many good people tried so hard, with so great a hope. We could have learned so much, and the knowledge would have been the very best kind, the kind you can build upon to reach even greater heights. The space program gives us something to dream about. Just ask any kid.



* I can only wonder how far into the future it will be before mankind will live on the planet Mars. There is one thing I feel certain those people will wonder about. They will wonder why mankind was so stupid spending a billion dollars to study and map the planet Mars. They will wonder how we could live with so much misery and pain to see on planet Earth and still be willing to throw a billion dollars away on the chance to know a little more about a boring planet.

Sure, I love the idea of knowing more about Mars. I remember that time when the only thing that came from Mars was evil Martians trying to destroy mankind. Now it seems that we don't need any Martians to destroy our planet. Let's spend the money on making the Earth beautiful.



* This story was front page, above the fold, but just imagine the screamers if the malfunctioning spaceship had held a human crew. This story demonstrates the folly of risky and hugely expensive manned space exploration when we get so much more return from robots.



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