NASA’s Mars exploration budget slashed by the Obama administration


NASA's Mars exploration program has been drastically scaled back as part of a series of 2013 budget cuts by the Obama administration, AFP reported

The plan, which was revealed by Obama on Monday, also has the US pulling out of a deal between NASA and European space agencies to cooperate on Mars rover missions in 2016 and 2018. The collaborative mission was planning to collect samples from the red planet in the next decade, according to BBC News

NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that "tough choices" had to be made in order to duck out of the European deal, but promised that NASA would restructure the Mars program so that future robotics missions could be revisited in 2018-2020, AFP reported. 

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"This means we will not be moving forward with the planned 2016 and 2018 ExoMars mission that we have been exploring with the European Space Agency," Bolden said.

Many scientists worry that the program cuts could have devastating consequences. 

"We are concerned that once planetary exploration programs are stopped, they just can't be restarted,"  Bill Nye, chief executive of the Planetary Society, an association of scientists skilled in the search for alien life, told AFP. 

Congress has allotted $17.7 billion to NASA for 2013, an amount that leaves the agency funded at its lowest level in four years, sources familiar with the forthcoming budget proposal told CBS News. The budget will see a $59 million decrease from 2012, according to the AFP. 

"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.

NASA's planetary science division is taking on some of the heaviest cuts, and will see its budget drop from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion, or a 20 percent reduction, CBS reported.

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The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA's costly follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope, is taking a larger slice of the budget, receiving $627.6 million for 2013, up from $518.6 million in 2012 and $476.8 million in 2011, according to Scientific American

In September, a group of 18 prominent planetary scientists signed an open letter warning that the Webb Telescope was absorbing funds that should be directed to planetary exploration missions, such as the Mars program, Scientific American reported. 

“The Mars program is one of the crown jewels of NASA,” Ed Weiler, an associate administrator at NASA who resigned in September, partly in protest over the impending cuts, told Science Insider. “In what irrational, Homer Simpson world would we single it out for disproportionate cuts?”

Larger portions of the budget are also being allocated to stimulating the commercial space flight industry.

The Obama administration wants private firms like SpaceX and Boeing to launch future US astronauts into space: the new budget puts $829.7 million towards commercial space flight for 2013, more than double what those programs received in 2012, according to Scientific American. 

"It is sad for science," Pascale Ehrenfreund, research professor of Space Policy at George Washington University, told AFP. "But you have to focus on the future. I am very convinced that when the Mars Science Laboratory lands in August and takes successful measurements on Mars that the situation might change rather fast. The budget may be reconsidered."

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