Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars exploration program is in calamitous straits. Proposed reductions in the President’s fiscal year 2021 budget may well pull the plug on the ensemble of veteran orbiters and the space agency’s only active Mars rover, Curiosity. That off-world machinery has been on the red planet prowl since early August 2012.

Odyssey orbiter reached Mars orbit in October 2001.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If unchanged, the budget numbers would close out a working relay/science orbiter, Mars Odyssey, this calendar year. It would also cripple Curiosity’s investigations just as it reaches the sulfate zone on Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater. The dollar shortfall would close out the rover’s work late next year, before it can explore a major climate transition recorded in the rocks higher on the mount.

Curiosity rover. A dollar shortfall would close out the rover’s work late next year, before it can explore a major climate transition recorded in the rocks higher on the mount.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Science floor

Furthermore, the FY’21 budget reduces by 20 percent the science sleuthing of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), cutting in half the number of targeted observations it can execute, purging most of the special data products associated with them. MRO is a dual-purpose orbiter providing zoom lens inspection of future landing sites and can relay data from surface missions back to Earth.

NASA’s robotic Holy Grail mission, a Mars sample return effort to bring back to Earth Martian collectibles.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

 

Lastly, another budget casualty would be the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, reducing that mission to its “science floor” even as it observes Sun-Mars interactions and the planet’s resulting atmospheric loss to space over the rising half of the solar cycle.

For more information on this topic, please read my new Scientific American article:

Mars Needs Money: White House Budget Could Prompt Retreat from Red Planet – Proposed cuts could end decades of U.S. leadership in exploring that world

By Leonard David on April 30, 2020

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mars-needs-money-white-house-budget-could-prompt-retreat-from-red-planet/

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