Noofa Hannan, Howl Staff
As a result of the abrupt withdrawal of funds by President Obama’s budget request for 2013, NASA will be canceling two ambitious missions to Mars that were to be launched in 2016 and 2018.
The 2016 mission aimed to send an orbiter to Mars to measure the presence of gases in the Martian atmosphere. Of these gases, methane was of particular interest because its presence would indicate the existence of microbes that emit this gas, thus confirming the possibility of life outside our planet. The 2018 mission planned to bring pieces of Mars back to Earth for extensive investigations.
However, with NASA’s space exploration budget cut by 20 percent, the prospective Mars missions are deeply affected. The missions are now unlikely to occur until the 2020s. The scientists working on the Mars missions are furious with the proposed budget cuts. In a letter to NASA sent on March 5, David J. Des Marais, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center and chairman of the Mars group, wrote, “Among the many dire impacts, the cuts threaten the very existence of the Mars exploration program which has been one of the crown jewels of the agency’s planetary exploration.”
NASA scientists are not the only ones fuming. NASA has withdrawn from its collaboration with the European Space Agency following the announcement of the budget cuts, leaving the European scientists disappointed as well. The Europeans are expected to partner with Russia in future Mars missions. Perhaps other nations will make the most exciting discoveries after NASA has laid the groundwork for Mars exploration over the past 15 years.
It should be noted that these budget cuts will not affect all of NASA’s missions to Mars. Curiosity, a NASA rover, is to land in August to investigate ancient sediments for carbon-based molecules that could provide insight about past presence of life on Mars. In addition, an orbiter mission called Maven is set to launch next year to study Mars’ upper atmosphere for a better understanding of the planet’s past climate.