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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.