Obama Budget Cuts Have Changed NASA’s Plan To Go To Mars

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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President Barack Obama’s cuts to NASA’s space exploration programs have forced the space agency to heavily rely on private companies to go to Mars.

NASA’s plans for Mars and even to return to Earth’s orbit are now largely dependent upon private companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA). SpaceX plans to begin sending its first unmanned Dragon lander to Mars in 2018, followed up by a manned mission in 2024. ULA, a joint venture between defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has pledged to beat Space X to Mars.

“The era that we all know and love and embrace is really coming to an end,” Jim Watzin, the head of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said during the meeting of his adviser. “It’s important to recognize that the future is not going to be the same as the past.”

NASA had previously been sending a steady stream of missions to Mars, but the agency has been forced to scale back to only one more planned mission, the Mars 2020 Rover.

Experts blame Obama for sidelined NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars in favor of having the space agency fund global warming research and outreach programs, forcing private companies to take the reins of Mars exploration

“A crewed Mars mission remains two decades away,” Alexandra Witze, a columnist at the science magazine Nature, wrote in Nature News. “Its schedule is constrained by the funding available to develop the necessary hardware — a new heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to sustain astronauts in deep space.”

“That is almost exactly the situation NASA was in eight years ago, bar one detail: Obama ditched the Moon as a first stop for astronauts on their way to Mars,” Witze wrote.

Obama’s NASA budget shifted money from NASA’s exploration and robotics programs to its environmental sciences and “outreach” programs.

Obama’s budget manages to cut every part of NASA that actually works, including planetary science programs, technological development programs, and many important future Mars missions — without saving any money.

NASA’s budget now includes more than $2 billion for the agency’s Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science. The money will be specifically allocated to improve climate modeling, weather prediction and natural hazard mitigation. In comparison, NASA’s other functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are only getting a mere $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively, in the budget.

The Earth Science Mission Directorate’s goal is to help NASA “meet the challenges of climate and environmental change.” The organization is also responsible for global warming models proven to be inaccurate when checked against actual temperature observations.

Spending on the Directorate has increased by 63 percent over the last eight years, making it the largest and fastest growing budget of any NASA science program. Over the same time period, the general NASA budget grew only by 10.6 percent — just enough to account for inflation.

Mars isn’t the only place NASA can’t explore due to budget cuts. Obama even siphoned funding from NASA’s mission to search for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa to pay for more global warming research.

These delays and budget cuts are allowing China to catch up to the space programs of NASA and the U.S. military, causing Congressional Republicans and Democrats to blame Obama.

NASA can no longer put astronauts into space without Russian cooperation due to Obama’s cuts to the agency’s exploration and spaceflight capability as the last Space Shuttle launched 5 years ago in July after Obama effectively cancelled its replacement. As far back as 2007, Obama called for delaying the Constellation program to replace NASA’s Space Shuttles for five years in order to pay for his education program.

NASA’s inability of America to send humans into space forces the U.S. to pay Russia tens of millions of dollars for access to the International Space Station (ISS). Russia has repeatedly threatened to block American access to the $150 billion ISS in response to U.S. sanctions. The U.S. paid for 84 percent of the costs associated with building the ISS.

The top scientific question the space agency seeks to answer NASA’s budget justification is, “How are Earth’s climate and the environment changing?” The more typical space questions, such as “Are we alone?” and “How does the universe work?,” were at the very bottom of the list.

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