Mars exploration in trouble?

Contributed by
Feb 13, 2008

The proposed NASA budget for fiscal year 2009 looks pretty good at a glance: more money overall, and funding for some new lunar and astronomical missions. That's why I praised it.

But I may have spoken too soon. While the new budget is a boon to many missions, it may be a disaster for Mars exploration. As The Planetary Society points out, the budget for Mars exploration over the next few years has been cut dramatically. And I mean dramatically: the total expenditure in the Fiscal year 2009 Presidential request is $386 million, which sounds like a lot, until you find out the Mars funding for FY 08 was $626 million!

Robert Braun, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, has some choice words on this topic. Future Mars missions look to be in trouble. No mission is planned for 2011, and the probe planned for 2013 may be delayed. Getting to Mars from Earth relies on the orbital dance of the two planets, so delays in building spacecraft literally translates into adding years of postponement to each mission. Both the Bush Administration, Congress, and NASA have made pledges to continue exploring Mars, but now it looks like the White House is backing out of its promise.

However, Congress must approve the President's budget request, and historically they always wind up fiddling with it. Congress made it clear that Mars funding has a lower limit to it, a limit that is nowhere near met by this budget proposal. Hopefully they will rectify this situation.

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