White House budget could impact NASA’s Mars rover program


NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity (NASA/Reuters)

The president’s 2014 budget request includes a whack at a high-profile element of NASA: Planetary science, including the Mars program that last year put the rover Curiosity on the red planet.

The White House proposal, which trims NASA’s overall budget by about $50 million, cuts Planetary Science dramatically, from $1.5 billion in 2012 to $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year — although some of that funding would simply shift to other NASA programs.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a news conference that the reduction was primarily the result of finding cheaper ways to achieve the same goals within the agency.

“We have now found ways to be much more frugal,” Bolden said.

NASA says much of the reduction comes from a drop in funds needed for the Mars rover program, which had caused a spike in the Planetary Science outlay in previous years. The reduction in funding “is part of the normal development cycle,” a NASA spokesman said by e-mail.

But Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” who is CEO of the Planetary Society, which advocates for robotic space exploration in the solar system, expressed his displeasure in a blog post Wednesday on the organization’s Web site. The budget cut, he wrote, “will strangle future missions and reverse a decade’s worth of investment building the world’s premier exploration program.”

He added: “NASA got approval to pursue a mission to capture and move an asteroid. This is intriguing and will receive a good deal of press coverage. But the disproportionate cuts to planetary science are disappointing and must get coverage, too. NASA did not get the message from Congress and the public about their wishes for missions to distant worlds.”

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Josh Hicks · April 10, 2013