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Nov 23, 2023 | In The News


NASA has slowed down its own Mars sample mission amid uncertainty about its budget for next year. The US space agency’s move has been criticised by both parties in the US, calling it “short-sighted and misguided”. They are also claiming that NASA’s “rash” decision will cost jobs in California.

NASA’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission is a proposed mission to collect rock and dust from the Martian soil, as collected by the Perseverance rover. The mission was proposed to start in 2026, with NASA collecting all the data back to Earth by 2033. 

But the programme’s estimated budget has skyrocketed and it’s uncertain whether Congress will approve a full-year budget. Due to this, the space agency slowed down the programme in early November.

Why are US lawmakers criticising NASA?

US lawmakers are of the opinion that NASA should reverse its decision to proactively cut funding to the programme and wait for a proper solution.

Six California lawmakers wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, urging it to take back the decision on the issue as it will cut hundreds of jobs and a decade of science will be lost.

“This short-sighted and misguided decision by NASA will cost hundreds of jobs and a decade of lost science, and it flies in the face of congressional authority,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, shared by POLITICO.

“We are mystified by NASA’s rash decision to suggest at this stage of the appropriations process that any cuts would be necessary.”

The letter was led by California Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats and signed by Democrats Rep. Judy Chu and Sen. Laphonza Butler. Reps. Mike Garcia and Young Kim, both Republicans, also signed on.

California is home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which sends robots to Mars. NASA’s decision to deliberately slow down the MSR mission will affect the jobs in the state. A large number of people will lose their jobs at NASA and the country will lose the “talented workforce to the private sector, which will then be impossible to reassemble”, the letter reads.

A quest to counter China 

One argument that California lawmakers presented was that NASA’s scientific endeavours and achievements are the country’s collective quest to counter China. China is also actively pursuing similar mission to gather more information about the red planet.

The estimated price tag for NASA’s Mars Sample Return effort has steeply risen from $4 billion to as much as $11 billion because the programme was set with an “unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning,” according to the independent review released by the space agency in September.

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