April 13, 2024

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The Senate puts NASA in the know regarding a Mars mission

The Senate puts NASA in the know regarding a Mars mission

The Senate notes deep skepticism about NASA’s ambitious plans to bring back soil samples from the Red Planet, expressing concerns about the mission’s cost and viability.

Senate confiscation Just apply $300 million in fiscal year 2024 funding for the Mars mission — less than a third of the $949 million budget requested from NASA.

Specialists also say they have deep skepticism about whether NASA can complete the mission, known as the Mars Sample Return (MSR).

Subcommittee on TC, Justice, Science and Related Agencies wrote in Appropriations Bill Define funding for 2024.

It added that it would cancel $300 million earmarked for the mission if the agency could not ensure the total cost did not exceed $5.3 billion. NASA estimates that mission development costs, which were originally $4.4 billion, have grown to more than $9 billion.

Notably, this price represents only the cost of developing and testing the mission components. It does not include launch costs or operating costs for the planned five-year mission timeframe. Nor does it include the construction of any new sample receiving facility that may be required to handle rock and soil samples.

The samples in question were collected by NASA’s newest Mars rover — Perseverance — which launched to Mars in 2020. The rover was sent to Mars to help find signs of life, and has been tasked with taking samples from the surface and subsurface of Mars. To date, Perseverance has collected 18 of 43 planned samples.

The ability to collect and study samples could give scientists unprecedented data about Mars, helping fill in the gaps about how the planet has changed over time. They could help scientists understand whether Mars is habitable and might even contain eventual signs of life – both past and present.

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NASA is working with the European Space Agency to develop MSR mission. As part of this plan, NASA will build a sample Lander that is scheduled for launch in 2028, although the Senate and some members of the agency doubt that is a viable launch date.

As NASA works to develop the technology needed for the mission, costs have ballooned. Early estimates put the cost of this mission at around $4 billion, but according to the panel’s report, the space agency has already spent more than $1 billion. The subcommittee also noted that the planned launch date of 2028 is too strict and likely to fall, adding to the cost overruns.

NASA also convened an Institutional Review Board to review the MRS mission and determine the best course for success. The board is expected to release its results in late August or early September.

A periodic poll of the scientific community designed to indicate important NASA missions estimated last year that MSR would cost about $5.3 billion, which is the limit now set by the Senate.

If NASA cannot guarantee that it can complete the mission for that amount, the Mars program will face cancellation, and the Senate will divert $300 million to other missions, with the bulk of it going to the Artemis lunar program. This mission aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface and establish a small space station in lunar orbit.

Scientists in the same poll said the Mars mission was too critical, and that it was worth asking Congress for more money to complete it. They argued that the request would help ensure that no additional funding was drawn from other scientific missions.

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But NASA faces significant headwinds in securing more funding, as congressional negotiators feel pressure to keep overall government spending in line with the budget caps agreement reached between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier this year. .

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-K.) has described himself as a supporter of NASA, but acknowledged during consideration of NASA funding in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week that the cuts would lead to “substantial challenges” in sustaining all of the agency’s programs.

“We’ve been able to protect the most important national priority within the NASA budget, which is returning to the moon and maintaining our strategic advantage in space,” said Moran, the top Republican on the spending subpanel that oversees funding for NASA.

The costs of the Mars program have risen for a number of reasons.

There were technical flaws in the original mission concept, which included a single lander and a small sample-recovery rover. There were also major errors in the mission’s technical requirements which meant more hardware was needed, which cost more money.

Staffing issues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have also delayed multiple missions, including the MSR.

This isn’t the first time a mission has drastically over budget or the first time a major NASA mission has faced cancellation.

The James Webb Space Telescope faced possible cancellation in 2011, but still went ahead with launches in 2021 despite a ballooning budget that ended up costing $10 billion. NASA’s Artemis lunar program is also massive over its planned budgetIt could cost $93 billion by the time astronauts reach the surface of the moon.

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