Saturday, August 11, 2012

Uncertainty lingers on NASA's Mars program

Photo NASA

This week’s arrival of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity set the stage for a potentially game-changing quest to learn whether the planet most like Earth ever had a shot at developing life, but follow-up missions exist only on drawing boards.
The United States had planned to team up with Europe on a trio of missions beginning in 2016 that would culminate in the return of Mars soil and rock samples to Earth, an endeavor the National Research Council considers its top priority in planetary science for the next decade.
Citing budget concerns, the Obama administration terminated NASA’s participation in Europe’s ExoMars program earlier this year, spurring the U.S. space agency to re-examine its options before another flight opportunity comes and goes. Earth and Mars favorably align for launches about every 26 months.
The situation is complicated by massive budget overruns in the $2.5-billion US Curiosity mission, intended to determine if Mars could now or ever have supported microbial life, and in the $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to the Hubble observatory.
Read details: Toronto Sun


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