Tag Archives: planetary program

Review panel approves extensions for seven planetary missions.

In approving extensions of seven NASA planetary missions, a review panel concluded that the Curiosity rover wasn’t doing the best it could, and that the project scientist didn’t work hard enough to change their minds.

The Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover landed on the red planet in August 2012. Equipped with a drill to gather surface samples and spectroscopy equipment to analyze the samples, the rover has collected and analyzed five surface specimens so far and, according to the extended mission proposal just approved by NASA, would analyze another eight over the next two years. That is “a poor science return for such a large investment in a flagship mission,” a 15-person senior review panel chaired by Clive Neal, a geologist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, wrote in a report published Sept. 3.

The report also chided John Grotzinger, the lead Curiosity project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for neglecting to show up in person during a Mars-focused senior review panel meeting in May. “This left the panel with the impression that the [Curiosity] team felt they were too big to fail,” the senior review panel wrote.

This sounds like a pissing war between scientists. Grotzinger didn’t give them the required deference so they slammed him. No matter happened, however, we know they weren’t going to cancel Curiosity’s funds.

The planetary science community is in an uproar over the Obama administration’s proposed restructuring and possible budget cuts to NASA’s planetary research program.

The planetary science community is in an uproar over the Obama administration’s proposed restructuring and possible budget cuts to NASA’s planetary research program.

Though the Obama administration has been consistently hostile to the planetary program, attempting to cut it severely several years in a row, and though I generally have found these particular cuts to be short-sighted, in this case the article is not very clear about the cuts NASA is proposing. It appears they are going to eliminate for one year the general research fund. I suspect there is waste in this budget, but I also suspect that this is a meat cleaver approach that has not been thought out well, as suggested in the article.

One quote from the article reinforces the foolishness of these management decisions:

Next year, a high-level NASA review is likely to have to decide between shutting down either the Mars Curiosity rover or the Cassini mission to Saturn. Both are successful missions that cost around $60 million a year, a level that Green has said the division simply cannot afford for the long term.

Talk about penny wise, pound foolish. The cost to get these probes to their destination was in the billion dollar range, each. To shut them down when they are working and cost relatively so little now is beyond stupid.

As I have written repeatedly, we have a big federal deficit. We need to cut, and I think NASA’s budget can be cut. It just makes no sense to cut planetary research, when there are other portions of that budget that are accomplishing little and cost far more.

Scientists are proposing that Europe send a probe to Titan and sail it on that planet’s methane lakes.

Scientists are proposing that Europe send a probe to Titan and sail it on that planet’s methane lakes.

This concept had been proposed to NASA last year but it was rejected when the Obama administration shut down the planetary program.

Ed Weiler quit NASA over Mars planetary program cuts to be announced Monday

Ed Weiler quit NASA in September because of the cuts to the Mars planetary program that the Obama administration will announce on Monday.

Weiler was NASA’s chief science administrator for most of the past thirty years.

As I have already noted, the programs that NASA shouldn’t cut are its planetary and astronomy programs. Far better to dump the Space Launch System, which eats up a lot more cash and will end up producing nothing. By doing so you would not only reduce NASA’s actual budget — thereby saving the federal government money — you could simultaneously increase the budgets of the planetary and astronomy programs.

According to scientists, Obama’s proposed budget — to be announced on Monday — will cut the planetary program severely.

According to scientists, Obama’s proposed budget — to be announced on Monday — will severely cut NASA’s planetary program.

We will find out if this is true on Monday. However, I suspect it is, as all the rumors have pointed that way for months.

Meanwhile, Congress is forcing NASA to spend $3 billion on the Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket that will never get finished. As I have written previously, this is a very bad use of the taxpayer’s money. Better to get rid of SLS, put half the savings into the science program (which would almost certainly increase its overall budget) and pocket the rest as budget savings.

According to Zubrin, Obama about to terminate all NASA science

According to Robert Zubrin, the Obama administration is planning to terminate all funding to NASA’s planetary program, while cutting back significantly on its astronomy program.

Word has leaked out that in its new budget, the Obama administration intends to terminate NASA’s planetary exploration program. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, being readied on the pad, will be launched, as will the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter scheduled for 2013, but that will be it. No further missions to anywhere are planned. After 2013, America’s amazing career of planetary exploration, which ran from the Mariner probes in the 1960s through the great Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Galileo and Cassini missions, will simply end.

Furthermore, the plan from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also leaves the space astronomy program adrift and headed for destruction. The now-orbiting Kepler Telescope will be turned off in midmission, stopping it before it can complete its goal of finding other Earths. Even worse, the magnificent Webb Telescope, the agency’s flagship, which promises fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the laws of the universe, is not sufficiently funded to allow successful completion. This guarantees further costly delays, with the ensuing budgetary overruns leading inevitably to eventual cancellation.

I suspect these cuts have been leaked now, months before the budget is publicly released, in order to whip up support for funding these programs. I also find it distressing that these programs, which cost practically nothing, are targets, while others that cost many many more billions (in NASA and elsewhere) remain fully funded.