When President Obama laid out his budget on Monday, NASA’s Mars mission plans took a hit. Planetary science budgets were cut by roughly 21%, while more money was allocated to human exploration, space technology and new spacecraft development. The focus has shifted towards new ways of getting men and women into space, while putting the studies on the expansion of the universe and a manned mission to Mars on the backburner. This means the joint U.S.-European venture to Mars is getting cut.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden states that the new budget “in-sources jobs, creates capabilities here at home, and strengthens our workforce, all while opening the next great chapter in American exploration.” Insourcing takes on a whole new meaning, when jobs are literally being kept on Earth.
So far, the Obama administration has invested over $1 billion in the private development of new spacecraft, as the old shuttles are becoming science museum antiques, and astronauts are relying on Russia to get into space. Obama’s budget also funds the Space Transport System, a new multistage rocket similiar to the Apollo designs. Bolden said the first flight of a manned commercial vehicle using the Space Transport System would likely launch before 2017. He also states that the first manned mission using the nuclear-propelled Orion system would launch after 2021.
Not everyone is happy with NASA’s new direction. Bill Nye, the Science Guy, wonders what the point of focusing on new technology might be, when extraterrestrial life is everyone’s most popular question. “I encourage whoever made this decision to ask around; everyone on Earth wants to know if there is life on other worlds,” Nye says. Obama’s plan also allows funding for the James Webb telescope, set to replace the Hubble.