9 April 2008

Mars Matters!

Posted by briony

The Planetary Society recently submitted an invited statement to the House Science and Technology Committee on the NASA 2009 Budget Request. The statement makes some excellent points about the problems with the budget request, specifically regarding the descoping of “The Vision” (now a dirty word at NASA HQ) and the concurrent decrease in Mars funding. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here is my favorite bit specifically about Mars:

The goal of human exploration is Mars; public interest in the search for extraterrestrial life centers on Mars; the question of humankind’s future on other worlds will begin to be answered on Mars. Mars is firmly tied to understanding the processes of habitability and global climate change.

I may print that out and put it on my office door. And here’s the ringer:

This is why the Mars program was fully restructured in 2000 into a strategic set of interrelated missions leading to robotic and then human sample return. That approach, binding exploration and science together, is now weakened. After the elimination of Mars from the Exploration program, Mars is now being diminished in the Science program

Just to drive the point home, the Planetary Society provides this excellent plot of how Mars expected funding has changed over the past several years (full res here):

Mars 5 Year Budget Changes

There’s also some great material in there on the impact of the Mars Sample Return mission plan on the budget, but I’ll save that for a future, dedicated MSR post.