US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The White House is forced to cut back on funds allocated by NASA, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
NASA’s Mars exploration program is in jeopardy. Reducing this program in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 may lead to the disconnection of the only active rover on the planet that has been exploring Mars since 2012, Scientific American reports .
If the budget does not change, then already in this calendar year the Mars Odyssey orbiter, a functional communications relay that has been operating in Mars orbit since 2001, will stop working.
The scientific mission of Curiosity, which continues scientific research on Mount Sharp in Gail Crater, will also be reduced. In the worst case scenario, it could be turned off at the end of 2021, before being able to explore the important transition in the ancient climate of Mars, evidence of which is supposed to be found in the upper sections of the mountain.
In addition, the budget for fiscal year 2021 will reduce the scientific work of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) by 20%. Like the Mars Odyssey, the MRO is a dual-use orbiter that serves as the most important data repeater, as well as providing high-resolution images of potential future landing sites.
“There is still a lot of work on Mars. This is a dynamic planet, the surface and atmosphere of which are changing on many scales: from hours to decades. If the United States rolls back its operations there, we won’t know what we have lost for a very long time,” said Richard Zurek, Mars Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A reduced budget will also affect the spacecraft Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), reducing the scientific activity of this mission to a minimum. Having been in orbit of Mars since 2014, MAVEN allows researchers to track the ongoing deterioration of the planet’s atmosphere, a process that has transformed Mars billions of years ago from a warm, moist world to its current cold, arid state.
At the same time, NASA does not plan to make changes to the future mission of Perseverance – the rover, with the help of which in the future samples will be delivered from Mars to Earth. According to Zurek, the budget for the planet’s exploration program is not large enough to support sample delivery efforts, while at the same time involving Mars Odyssey, MRO, MAVEN and Curiosity.
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