CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CAP) - Months after the Mars exploration rover Spirit first got stuck in a sand dune because of a disabled wheel, NASA is still awaiting the arrival of AAA to help extricate the vehicle. Officials for the space program say the operators at the AAA call center have tried to be helpful, but don't think they fully grasp the gravity of the situation.
"The last guy tells us that if the tire seems stuck and won't come off, giving it a swift kick may loosen it," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Thanks, Einstein. Exactly who is going to do that? It's an unmanned rover. So, we continue to wait."
Bolden said the last several NASA technicians attempting to obtain a status from AAA have been given the company's party line response that "it'll be another couple of hours" before they can get a truck out to the location. Multiple CAP News phone calls to the Auto Club South headquarters of AAA were finally met with an irate manager.
"Listen, we don't have a lot of trucks that service the Mars region," said a call center director who identified himself as Marvin. "The closest guy is out on 95 hauling away an abandoned vehicle. Once he's done with that, we'll be on our way. And not a minute sooner."
The call center manager hinted to CAP News that NASA may need to upgrade their membership to AAA Plus in order to get full assistance on Mars, which falls outside of the main servicing areas of Florida, Georgia, Middle & West Tennessee. He did say that even if they don't upgrade, the Club will continue to dispatch service, but NASA may be required to pay at a special AAA member rate of $3 per mile after the third mile - which could run the administration about $105 million to get the rover back to Earth.
"In addition, we also provide AAA Plus members free foreign AAA travel books and maps," Marvin told CAP News. "That way next time they'd know which sand dunes to avoid so this doesn't happen again."
Part of the problem in getting assistance to Spirit has actually been NASA's own doing. One official speaking to CAP News under the condition of anonymity said the initial call to AAA was delayed because someone had misplaced the membership card. NASA also attempted to call for manufacturer roadside assistance, only to find that Spirit's warranty was no longer valid.
"Yeah, I guess the warranty ran out before the rover even passed the moon en route to Mars," the official said. "100,000 miles doesn't go as far as it used to. I knew we should have gotten the extended warranty."
All of this comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to determine whether to increase the agency's budget to help fund future projects such as reviving the defunct Sex In Space program, fixing the space shuttle's satellite TV or letting NASA engineers order out for Chinese.
"Do we, uhh, pay to tow the Mars rover back to Earth, or do we, uhh, provide healthcare coverage for low-income families?" President Obama said to reporters during a press conference yesterday. "I think I'm getting sick just trying to figure out the right choice to make. Anyone have a coin?"
- CAP News Staff