Share & Connect
Recently, President Barack Obama filled out the 2013 Federal Budget Request, which will be released today. NASA received a massive blow to its budget, prompting its administrators to debate which programs should be cut. A decision weighed between exploring the planets in our solar system or adventuring out into the cosmos. In the end, several programs for planets were cut. Mars was hit the most. According to Associated Press, the current budget for Mars missions is $518.7 million, and more than $200 million has been slashed.
“To me, it’s totally irrational and unjustified,” Edward Weiler, who is formerly NASA’s associate administrator for science, says to MSNBS.com. Weiler quit because he, according to MSNBC, tried to prevent Mars from being in the pool for the cuts. “We are the only country on this planet that has the demonstrated ability to land on another planet, namely Mars. It is a national prestige issue.”
The ExoMars Program is a collaboration of NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency). Their goal, according to the website, is to “search for evidence of past and present life on Mars.” Two missions have been planned thus far. The first, led by the ESA, is to send a satellite launched by NASA to Mars in 2016 that will search for traces of methane in the atmosphere.
The second plans to send, in 2018, two rovers (one American and one European), which will drill into the red planet’s surface. This mission will be both led and launched by NASA, who will have provided the materials and technical attributes. NASA promised to provide $1.4 billion for both missions.
If NASA truly withdraws, ESA will look to involve Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. They worry, however, that Roscosmos does not have the same technical skills and assets as NASA. Furthermore, ESA would have to deal with the fact that the program will have lost a large amount of money – the missions would be hindered and delayed.
NASA has been in a bind with costs, using much their budget, for example, to replace the $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope with their current successful Hubble Space Telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope, which was originally estimated to cost $3 billion, would be more than a hundred times powerful than Hubble.
“Even in these times of fiscal restraint, President Obama has laid out an ambitious plan of exploration and discovery for NASA that includes robotic missions to Mars as well as the ultimate goal of a human mission,” NASA HQ in Washington tells BBC. “It would not be appropriate to comment on specifics of the president’s budget before it is released on 13 February.”