Mars Missions Fall Back to Earth?

June 7th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Nature reports that NASA robotic missions to Mars, arguably the most consistent overperformer of the agency over the last decade, will not receive most favored planet status in the next reviews for future projects.  The next decadal assessment will consider Mars missions on the same level as missions to other planets, as will the next program competition under Discovery, the overarching NASA program that handles unmanned exploration.

It seems that one of the challenges for Mars programs (and any NASA robotic mission) is retaining the “faster, better, cheaper” rubric that eventually led those missions to an impressive run.

“But the Mars community might have itself to blame for the tight budgets that have led to the current quandaries. The $2.3-billion Mars Science Laboratory — the super-sized rover scheduled for launch in 2011 — ended up being the mammoth, bells-and-whistles mission that a stepwise Mars programme was supposed to help avoid. The mission also ended up chewing through hundreds of millions of dollars in its budget overruns — more than enough to fund a Mars Scout.”

I don’t think anyone got greedy here.  It just shows how difficult planning space exploration is with limited resources.  Those who respond with calls for more money for NASA should understand that as useful as they might be, they aren’t coming.  The ingenuity that has forced NASA to improvise and to operate spacecraft and instruments long past expected lifespans is worth encouraging.  Perhaps this adjustment will be a useful reminder.

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