Is NASA focusing too much on Mars? (+video)
Even as the Curiosity Mars rover was still testing its equipment in preparation for its surface mission, NASA has unveiled plans for another unmanned mission to Mars. Is the agency playing favorites?
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InSight builds on the heritage of NASA's Phoenix lander, which confirmed the presence of water ice near Mars' north pole in 2008. And two of InSight's science instruments are provided by the French and German space agencies, respectively.Skip to next paragraph
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These features helped convince NASA that InSight had the greatest potential to stay under budget and on schedule — a key priority for the space agency, which saw its planetary science funding cut by 20 percent in the White House's proposed 2013 federal budget.
"I don't think I need to tell you that in the current fiscal environment that's really a very important element, all other things being equal, as they were," Grunsfeld said. [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]
Saving the Mars program?
Much of the money cut from NASA's planetary science efforts in the 2013 budget request is slated to come out of the Mars program. As a result, NASA bowed out of the European-led ExoMars mission — which aims to send an orbiter and a rover to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018, respectively — and began downscaling its Mars exploration plans.
The selection of InSight could provide a huge shot in the arm to the agency's Mars program, some experts say.
"This is a major victory for Mars exploration," Robert Zubrin, director of the Mars Society, wrote in a blog post Tuesday (Aug. 21). "Not only is InSight an excellent mission that will teach us much about the history and internal structure of the Red Planet, it saves the Mars exploration program."
Other observers viewed InSight's selection as bittersweet, lamenting the fact that NASA cannot afford to fly all three finalist missions.
"There didn’t need to be two teams of disappointed scientists today," Casey Dreier, technology and outreach strategist at The Planetary Society, wrote in a blog post Monday. "There could have been three teams celebrating the future of exploration and incredible science. It could have been Mars, Titan, and a comet."
"We as a nation could have been celebrating our ability to pursue the most exciting science in every corner of our solar system," Dreier added in his post, which urged readers to push their elected representatives to increase NASA's planetary science funding. "What a wild and heady time it could’ve been."
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