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Trying to save missions to Mars

Adriene Hill Feb 27, 2012

Adriene Hill: Now to Mars — if we can afford it. Mars researchers are meeting with NASA today to figure out if there’s a way to pay for future trips to the red planet. Robotic missions in 2016 and 2018 have been cut from the president’s budget proposal in favor of more human exploration and technology to help keep an eye on the earth.

For more, we go to Olivier de Weck. He’s an astronautics professor at MIT. Good morning.

Olivier de Weck: Good morning, how are you?

Hill: I’m well. So why have these missions been cut from the budget?

de Weck: So the overall picture is that NASA’s budget has been very flat, so the budget request this year for NASA has been $17.7 billion, which is only $59 million less than last year. So this is primarily a distribution of the budget between major categories in NASA.

Hill: So why does it matter whether or not we have robots going to Mars?

de Weck: Of course, you get asked this question of space exploration in general, but the Mars rovers have really been a shining beacon, I would say, for gaining knowledge about the planet and the solar system that is most similar to our own earth. And you know, I don’t want to paint that doomsday scenario, but maybe one day Mars will become a lifeboat for us. If earth, for example, gets hit by a major asteroid, we might be very happy that we know a lot about the red planet.

Hill: Now is there an organization that can be an alternative to NASA as far as getting this done?

de Weck: Space exploration has now become a truly international endeavor. For example, the European space agency is quite capable and has a current mission on the books, and of course, other nations around the world like Japan, Russia and especially China, are really stepping up their space exploration efforts. So we’re certainly not alone, and you’ll see more and more missions happening in a collaborative way.

Hill: Olivier de Weck, thanks so much.

de Weck: Thank you, Adriene.

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