Both missions are controlled from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
and employ hundreds of scientists and engineers who live, work, shop
and play in La Canada Flintridge.
City officials often express pride that the city is home to the
laboratory. Wednesday was no different, as they touted the extended
missions and what they mean for the city. "Congratulations to the
JPL scientists and engineers," Councilwoman Laura Olhasso said. "They
are like our family, so that any mission of JPL that is successful is
like our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters being successful.
Their success brings joy and prosperity to all."
The mission cost $820 million to get off the ground and employed
between 400 and 500 employees, said John Callas, deputy project
manager for the Mars exploration rover project.
The missions now cost about $3 million a month, or $100,000 a day,
to operate, he said, adding that the number of crew members has
dwindled to about 200.
"We have gotten a lot more efficient," he said. "One person now
does multiple functions."
Key to the longevity of the mission was the engineering of both
robots, Callas said.
"When you design and build a mission, you want a high probability
that you will be successful, so you design to achieve that under
worst-case conditions that pose the breakage or failure of
equipment," he said. "We have been very fortunate that the surface of
Mars has treated us well, and the rovers are healthy."
Several of NASA's space exploration missions, including both
Voyagers that were originally slated to explore Jupiter, Saturn,
Neptune and Uranus, have been extended beyond their original design,
spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said.
"As long as the equipment keeps working, it makes sense to
continue the missions," she said.
The rovers have both made important discoveries of evidence that
water on Mars' surface could have once supported life, Callas said.
Both rovers, which have traveled up to 200 meters a day, will
continue to explore the geology of the planet for signs of water, he