Written by Douglas Helm | published
NASA has some very ambitious plans for Mars in the near future, but the space agency’s recent decision to cut funding for the Mars Sample Return mission has left parties on both sides scratching their heads. The decision sparked criticism from lawmakers who considered the decision “short-sighted and misguided,” the lawmakers said. POLITICO. The mission, which aims to bring samples from Mars to Earth, has faced recent budget challenges, prompting the US space agency to slow the program in November.
California lawmakers, led by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Alex Padilla, wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson about the Mars mission decision. The letter was also signed by Democratic Representatives Judy Chu and Senator LaFunza Butler, along with Republican Representatives Mike Garcia and Yong Kim. The letter states that the decision could result in job losses, cost up to a decade of scientific progress, and that the “hasty decision” to propose cuts during the appropriations phase “flyes in the face of Congress’ authority.”
The job cuts in the reduced funding will primarily affect NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based in California, which creates robots that are sent to Mars. The message also played into Nelson’s personally stated missions, such as his desire to confront global competition from other spacefaring superpowers such as China. The United States is not the only country hoping to return samples from the Red Planet for the first time in history, as China is also working to achieve a similar goal.
NASA’s Mars Sample Return Mission is an amazing science project that involves the Perseverance rover and collaboration with the European Space Agency for later phases of the mission. The Perseverance rover is currently roaming the surface of the planet collecting rocks and dust in tubes, which will be retrieved in the future. The European Space Agency will then assist in the retrieval phase.
NASA and the European Space Agency will send a rover called Fetch to pick up the tubes from the surface of Mars in a delivery from the Perseverance rover. The vehicle will then load the tubes into a spacecraft, which will launch from the surface and rendezvous with a larger spacecraft, which will make a return trip to the Utah desert to drop off samples. According to a Politico report, the funding cuts will result in the space agency missing the 2030 launch window for the retrieval vehicle.
An independent review of NASA’s Mars mission was released in September, revealing that the budget and timeline for the project were unrealistic from the beginning. This is evidenced by the fact that the initial budget of $4 billion could reach $11 billion, which undoubtedly influenced the space agency’s decision to withdraw and propose budget cuts. The agency will have to wait for final appropriations from Congress to find out how much it will receive from the current funding request.
Currently, there is a bill in the House of Representatives granting NASA full funding request of $949.3 million. There’s also a Senate bill that would give the agency just $300 million. In the meantime, the agency has some funding, but will have to continue operating under last year’s budget until the Feb. 2 deadline.
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