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NASA has announced its next planetary mission, a lander to Mars that will drill down thirty feet into the planet’s surface.
Though exciting in its own right, this mission is far less ambitious than the two missions which competed against it, a boat that would have floated on the lakes of Titan and a probe that would have bounced repeatedly off the surface of a comet. I suspect the reason this mission was chosen is the tight budgets at NASA, combined with Curiosity’s success which makes it politically advantageous to approve another Mars mission. As the NASA press release emphasized,
InSight builds on spacecraft technology used in NASA’s highly successful Phoenix lander mission, which was launched to the Red Planet in 2007 and determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. By incorporating proven systems in the mission, the InSight team demonstrated that the mission concept was low-risk and could stay within the cost-constrained budget of Discovery missions. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.
The higher ups in the Obama administration probably favored picking a Mars mission in order to defuse some of the strong criticism they have gotten for decimating the budget of the Mars science program.