NASA could soon be facing an awful choice. The agency, feeling a budgetary squeeze from Congress, might not be able to fund all its robotic planetary exploration missions after next year.
This year NASA received $16.9 billion, which may sound like a lot but, once adjusted for inflation, is roughly what the agency got back in 1986. Just $1.27 billion of that budget goes into funding all robotic exploration in the solar system. And most space policy experts don’t see that number going up anytime in the near future. In 2014, NASA will put many of its robotic missions through what’s known as a senior review. Administrators will have to decide which of its missions will yield the highest scientific return and may recommend canceling some of them.
“We have two very expensive flagship missions, Cassini and Curiosity,” said NASA’s planetary science director Jim Green, speaking to one of the agency’s advisory councils on Nov. 5. “So, this particular competition we’ll have to do very carefully.”
You wouldn’t think the Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn since 2004, was in trouble. It has lately been beaming back incredible data about the planet’s rings and moons. A recent image from the mission (above) showing Earth, Venus, and Mars from Saturn was widely shared on the internet and even landed on the front page of the New York Times last week.
Would we give this up for a few bucks? Srsly?