One Giant Leap Backwards

©William Warren

See updates below: Some NASA scientists are saying the latest budget will not allow for near future missions to Mars. People are naive if they think Obama is maintaining the legacy of JFK. His gradual gutting of NASA is a repudiation of everything JFK stood for.

“Washington – Scientists say NASA is about to propose major cuts in its exploration of other planets, especially Mars. And NASA’s former science chief is calling it irrational.

With limited money for science and an over-budget new space telescope, the space agency essentially had to make a choice in where it wanted to explore: the neighboring planet or the far-off cosmos.

Mars lost.

Two scientists who were briefed on the 2013 NASA budget that will be released next week said the space agency is eliminating two proposed joint missions with Europeans to explore Mars in 2016 and 2018. NASA had agreed to pay $1.4 billion for those missions. Some Mars missions will continue, but the fate of future flights is unclear, including the much-sought flight to return rocks from the red planet.

The two scientists, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the budget, said the cuts to the Mars missions are part of a proposed reduction of about $300 million in NASA’s $1.5 billion planetary science budget. More than $200 million in those cuts are in the Mars program, they said. The current Mars budget is $581.7 million.

“To me, it’s totally irrational and unjustified,” said Edward Weiler, who until September was NASA’s associate administrator for science. “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.”

Weiler said he quit last year because he was tired of fighting to save Mars from the budget knife. He said he fought successfully to keep major cuts from Mars in the current budget but has no firsthand knowledge of the 2013 budget proposal.

Mars “has got public appeal, it’s got scientific blessings from the National Academy,” Weiler said in a phone interview from Florida. “Why would you go after it? And it fulfills the president’s space policy to encourage more foreign collaboration.”

Two years ago, President Obama said his ultimate goal was to send astronauts to Mars.

NASA spokesman David Weaver said that, just like the rest of the federal government, the space agency has to make “tough choices … and live within our means.”

To do so, Weaver said in an email, “NASA is reassessing its current Mars exploration initiatives to maximize what can be achieved.”

Weaver said the United States is the only country to land on Mars and has a car-sized rover on its way to the planet.

One of the big problems for NASA’s science budget is the replacement for the wildly successful Hubble Space Telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope, which would be about 100 times more powerful and would gaze farther into the universe than ever before, is now supposed to cost around $8 billion. It was originally estimated to cost $3.5 billion.

The other big part of NASA science spending — Earth sciences — is not being cut, the two scientists said.”

Scientists say NASA cutting missions to Mars

“A Nasa pull-out of ExoMars would be met with dismay by American planetary scientists.

The 2016 and 2018 missions were seen as the first steps in a series of missions that would lead to the eventual return of Martian rocks for study in Earth laboratories.

A recent panel reviewing the future of US planetary science considered this goal to be a top priority.

Withdrawal also has grave implications for transatlantic relations.

The US has already left Europe high and dry on several projects of late. Last year, it walked away from three multi-billion euro missions-in-the-planning, forcing European scientists and engineers to head back to the drawing board after three years of feasibility work.

Asked to comment on developments, Nasa HQ in Washington told the BBC: “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. It would not be appropriate to comment on specifics of the president’s budget before it is released on 13 February.” ”

ExoMars co-operation between Nasa and Esa near collapse

UPDATE: February 14, 2012 (2:30 PM GMT) Obama’s proposed cuts are as bad as feared.

“It is a real scientific tragedy and I personally believe it is a national embarrassment,” G. Scott Hubbard, a Stanford University professor who served as the first NASA Mars program director, told AFP.

“Here we had one of the most successful NASA programs of the last decade and it is being effectively turned off.”

Scientists say President Obama’s Mars cuts will impact research

UPDATE: April 15, 2012 (3:15 PM GMT) When you are pushed to go cheap that is when things can go wrong.

“In the past decade, NASA has spent $6.1 billion exploring Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. President Barack Obama’s latest proposed budget slashed spending for solar system exploration by 21 percent, making the collaboration with the Europeans unaffordable.

A newly formed team will cull through the ideas and come up with options by summer around the time when NASA’s latest mission, a $2.5 billion car-sized rover Curiosity, will land near the equator on Mars. NASA headquarters is the ultimate decider of which future projects to fund.

Whatever mission flies in 2018, it will be vastly cheaper than Curiosity and will be capped at $700 million.”

Budget woes force NASA to redraw plans to Mars

Obama Hammers The Last Nails Into The Coffin Of NASA

NASA’s “Foremost” Mission Under Obama 

The Eagle Is Grounded 

Obama To Cut NASA’s Budget

3 Responses to One Giant Leap Backwards

  1. Pingback: One Giant Leap For Mankind « simonjmeath

  2. Pingback: Obama Retreats, Russia Steps In « simonjmeath

  3. Pingback: OPINION: How NASA became a ping-pong ball - SpaceFlight Insider

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