Mars exploration in trouble?

By Phil Plait | February 13, 2008 8:53 am

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.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. KySat | February 13, 2008
  1. Gary Ansorge

    Ah yes, the typical last year political posturing of a Lame Duck. Dubya is obviously setting up the Democrats as profligate spenders, as they will probably try to re-instate the shortfall. This will provide ammunition for the Repubs in the election.

    Don’t you just LOVE partisan politics?

    GAry 7

  2. jabe

    my guess is if the Mars Science Laboratory rover is successful in landing the funding will increase..and stay the same with a failure..
    lets hope for success

  3. Travis McDermott

    So, Bush wants to people on Mars. And here I thought actually exploring the planet might be a good idea.

  4. Yeah, but warmist scientists have succeeded in pushing Earth observation onto their freedom-hating socializing agenda. It’s only right that someone be punished. And Mars is the *red* planet… sheesh, do I have to join the dots?

  5. Melusine


    The budget also includes funding for the start of a new “flagship” mission to the outer planets, though the precise nature of this venture has not yet been determined. One of the three options under consideration is a lander mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, designed to study the hidden ocean thought to exist beneath the moon’s surface. Another possibility is a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, which will include a lander and a balloon, as well as an orbiter. The third option being considered is a Jupiter orbiter which will also make close passes of the Jovian moons, including Europa. According to Alan Stern one of the three options will be dismissed by the end of the year, and the final selection will follow within months after that.

    I’m less inclined for the Moon business than Mars. Braun’s letter was good. As far as the above, I like those first two options: Europa & Titan.

    Gary, who do NASA people vote for?

  6. Quiz for you, Phil: Which planet has – by far – the most operating spacecraft in orbit, on the ground, enroute to a landing or under construction – and, for the first time, a commitment for a sample return mission…? I really have to side with NASA Watch on this one.

  7. Quatguy

    It sounds to me like Bush is afraid of finding life or evidence of past life on Mars. It does not fit with his (or the conservative rights) world and religious views.

  8. Ken G

    I think the answer to that is “Earth”, but I catch your drift. Isn’t the real issue here that NASA must decide if “Mars exploration” will be done primarily by humans or by robots? Cutting the robotic exploration budget is a shame, but gutting the human exploration budget to keep robotic exploration healthy would be… an excellent idea.

  9. Charles

    Expect it to go down even more as the boondoggle Orion system starts getting into its inevitable cost overruns.

    The Orion system is woefully low on performance, and its capabilities are well under what it should be to achieve the objectives that the president and NASA set forth in the latest VSE. To make up for it along with other problems with the planned Orion, money will have to be spent, and of course, there will be long delays with a spaceflight gap.

    Michael Griffin is, of course, blaming everyone else and claiming that contractors that were shut out of the original bidding are just trying to get back into the game. Truth is, people are starting the see that Orion is not what it was promised to be, and that before our space program goes down another dead end path (as it did with STS) perhaps we should take a step back and make better decisions with this launch platform.

    Were I in Congress or in charge of NASA, I would definitely take a second look at man-rating Atlas V or possibly even giving the Direct program a chance to succeed. As it stands now, it certainly looks like Orion is going to be yet another waste of time and money and it will take away from other exploration initiatives by taking away their funding.

    Maybe it is time for NASA to go and something else to replace it. NASA certainly seems to be as much of the problem as anything.

  10. Steve Schaper

    This is because the Democrat congress made it *illegal* to spend *any* money on Mars exploration, or which might have the effect of aiding Mars exploration. The amount given in the presidential request is still illegal by Congressional edict.

    I know everyone likes to bash Bush, but the facts in this case are otherwise.

    Part of this to is that it is not unlikely that Barak Husein Obama will be the next president, and he is dead-set against -any- manned exploration beyond Earth orbit.

  11. Gary Mcleod

    When Bush junior first made his announcement that NASA would return to the Moon and go to Mars, I honestly fell into a state of deep despair and told all my friends that this really means he will dramatically slash the budget and there definately will NOT be manned missions to these bodies, as GWB was pulling the exact same stunt his father did in the 80’s, creating a public impression he was in favour of space science, when in fact he is utterly opposed to it. I really hate to be proved right in this case, but it’s just like the WMD fiasco, with GWB demanding the Iraqis prove a negative.

    As Max Headroom once said:

    Q: How can you tell when a politician is lying?
    A: Their lips move.

  12. B. Dewhirst

    What we need here is a healthy dose of peer review. Have Congress cough up a flat budget, inflation adjusted, over a 10-20 year period… perhaps with subsequent add’l funding to specific projects etc.

    Then, allocate funding requests by the peer review process.

    Keep Congress out of it as much as possible, and keep business out of it as much as possible.

  13. B. Dewhirst

    I agree manned space exploration is an undue waste of funds, by the way… and I suspect -scientists- will agree, hence the peer review process of proposals.

  14. KaiYeves

    Swiper, no swiping!

  15. Jeffersonian

    Well, you can’t run up trillions in debt and then expect an age of well-funded space exploration to magically arrive. How would you convince people that taxes should be increased to cover the space program above and beyond that owed on the debt? The Democratic Party is in damage control mode. Spending simply can’t go on forever before the bills are due.

  16. brad

    The spending on the space stuff is so out of control. if you cant get some good science done re: mars for nearly 1/2 a billion dollars, you might need to rethink the methodologies and spending practices.

  17. Jon H

    Bah, the Man-on-Mars boondoggle was never meant as anything but a snipe hunt, a politically digestible way of slashing funding for space-based Earth science. Rather than blatantly cutting programs that aren’t compatible with corporate interests, just reallocate their funding into some decades-long project that will never come to fruition.

  18. Pieman123

    Can i have help on my report?


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