According to testimony by NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson to a Senate committee, its Mars Sample Return (MSR) project now needs a lot of additional funds in order to have any chance of staying on schedule.
Nelson told the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee today that he just learned two weeks ago during a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is building MSR, that they need an additional $250 million this year and an additional $250 million above the request for FY2024 to stay on schedule for launch in 2028.
That FY2024 request warns that the projections for future MSR funding requirements are likely to grow and force NASA to descope the mission or reduce funding for other science projects. NASA just set up a second [independent review board] to take another look at the program.
The project is already beginning to suck money from other science missions, such as solar and astronomy and the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. In addition, its method for getting the samples back to Earth remains somewhat uncertain due to ESA’s decision to not build a lander/rover for the mission, requiring JPL to propose the use of helicopters instead.
I predict Congress will fund everything, by simply printing more money as it nonchalantly continues to grow the national debt to levels unsustainable. Meanwhile, replacing the present very complex return concept — involving a lander, helicopters, an ascent rocket, and a return capsule (from Europe) — with a much cheaper and simpler option that is now on the horizon, Starship, does not seem to have occurred to any of the these government wonks.
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