Despite budget cuts, here's how NASA plans to reach Mars by 2018

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Dec 16, 2012

Two weeks ago, NASA's woes got deeper when it took a 20 percent cut to its space exploration money. That cut might mean we never make it to Mars, but NASA's not giving up on the Red Planet just yet.

On Monday, the space agency announced the foundation of the Mars Program Planning Group, which will attempt to work within existing budget constraints to find a way to keep America rolling on a mission to Mars. Orlando Figueroa, the agency's former program manager, has been appointed to lead the group.

Budget cuts have already forced the cancellation of a Mars flight planned for 2016, but with the foundation of the MMPG NASA's hoping to get back on track for a mission in 2018. It'll have to be cheap, though, because the most recent Mars mission—the Curiosity lander set to drop on Mars later this year—was a whopping $1.5 billion over budget.

The total cost of Curiosity ($2.5 billion) is part of the $6.1 billion in American tax dollars devoted to Mars exploration over the last 10 years. Former NASA sciences chief Alan Stern blames the ballooning budgets of Mars projects on researchers, who claim they can get things done cheaply to get the projects approved, then overspend to make the mission happen.

That means if we're ever going to Mars, we have to do it smart, and that's what Figueroa and his team are here to try to do.

"We'll look at all of the assets NASA is developing to reach, explore and study Mars, as well as spacecraft at or on its way to Mars," Figueroa said.

President Obama had previously hoped to get men on Mars by the 2030s, but with the next exploration mission now two years behind, it's unclear how soon that could be a reality. As Mars researcher Phil Christensen put it, it's like "we've just flown Apollo 10 and now we're going to cancel the Apollo program when we're one step from landing."

(via Red Orbit)