Newt Gingrich may still be dreaming of that moonbase of his, but back here in the real world NASA is facing very real and immediate budget cuts that are hitting the agency’s Mars plans the hardest. According to the BBC, President Obama’s proposed 2013 NASA budget will, if approved by Congress, reduce funds for planetary science by around 21%. One of the biggest results of this is that the U.S. is pulling out of the joint Mars missions it had planned in collaboration with Europe. All is not lost, however; while Mars is on the losing end of this budget, the new figures would increase funds for human space exploration by 6% and space technology by 22%. The budget will allot around $17.7 billion to the space agency next year.
Some of that reallocated cash will be used to fund development of the Orion capsule, a new rocket system which is designed to replace the Space Shuttle program and carry astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. The Orion could, in theory, take us back to the Moon. The first manned Orion mission likely won’t occur until 2021, however, meaning U.S. astronauts are still stuck bumming rides to the International Space Station from the Russians in the mean time. That’s just got to be embarrassing.
As for the future of Mars, this budget slashes funds for exploration of the Red Planet by almost 40% from 2012’s figures. Needless to say, not everybody is happy about that. The California-based Planetary Society released a statement that read, in part:
The US Administration is proposing a budget for fiscal year 2013 that would force NASA to walk away from planned missions to Mars, delay for decades any flagship missions to the outer planets, and radically slow the pace of scientific discovery, including the search for life on other worlds.
NASA representatives dismissed claims that they were turning their back on Mars research. There are still at least two high-profile Mars missions going forward: the Mars Science Laboratory rover, which lands this year, and the Maven mission in 2013. NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, “For someone to say we’re walking away from Mars with the biggest rover not even there yet, I don’t think that makes much sense.”