Op/Ed : Obama Wrecks the Mars Program National Review Online

In its budget submitted to Congress on February 13, the Obama administration zeroed out funding for NASA’s future Mars-exploration missions. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, currently en route to the Red Planet and the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2013, will be sent, but that’s it. No funding has been provided for the Mars probes planned as joint missions in 2016 and 2018 with the European Space Agency, and nothing after that is funded either. This poses a grave crisis for the American space program.
NASA’s Mars-exploration effort has been brilliantly successful because, since 1994, it has been approached as a campaign, with probes launched every two years, alternating between orbiters and landers. As a result, combined operations have been possible, with orbiters providing communication links and reconnaissance guidance for surface rovers, which in turn can conduct investigations on the ground to verify and calibrate orbital observations. Thus, the great treks of the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003, were supported from above by Mars Global Surveyor (MGS, launched in1996), Mars Odyssey (launched in 2001), and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO, launched in 2005). But after serving ten years in orbit, MGS is now no longer operating, and if we wait until the 2020s to resume Mars exploration, the rest of the orbiters will be gone as well. Moreover, so will be the experienced teams that created them. Effectively, the whole program will be completely wrecked, and we will have to start again from scratch.