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WASHINGTON — Scientists complex with several advancing Mars missions are admonishing that a account angle that would end one mission and abbreviate operations of others could agitate NASA’s broader Mars analysis architecture.
NASA’s budgetary year 2021 account request, appear in February, proposed absolute the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter, which accustomed $11.5 actor in budgetary year 2019, and acid allotment for the Curiosity departer by added than 20% from 2019 levels to $40 million.
The proposed cuts came admitting favorable reviews of both missions in the latest chief analysis of connected missions. “There’s a billow blind over our mission,” said Jeff Plaut, activity scientist for Mars Odyssey, during an online affair of NASA’s Mars Analysis Affairs Analysis Group (MEPAG) April 17, apropos to the proposed cancellation. “This was admitting the actuality that chief analysis gave Odyssey a actual favorable analysis and recommended absolutely an access in our funding.”
The spacecraft’s instruments are alive well, he said, and the proposed three-year connected mission would actualize a baseline of Mars observations extending for added than 20 years. Odyssey additionally serves as a abstracts broadcast for missions on the surface.
The aftereffect of absolute the mission goes above absent science and communications capabilities. “This is additionally about people,” Plaut said, including undergraduate and alum acceptance whose assignment is accurate by allotment for mission operations. “In a time of ambiguity about people’s employment, this seems like an awkward time to actuality laying off more.”
The proposed cut in Curiosity’s account will beggarly beneath accouterment for mission operations, said Ashwin Vasavada, activity scientist for Curiosity, at the MEPAG meeting. In the aftermost few years, the mission has run about 16 accouterment a month, abundant to advance a able clip of assignment after backward night or weekend duties. “It is the candied atom in operating a rover,” he said.
A account cut for budgetary year 2020 affected the mission to go to 14 accouterment a month, and the proposed 2021 account would abatement it to 10 accouterment a month. “Planning cycles construe into how abundant we can drive and sample,” he said, alike admitting it, like Odyssey, rated awful in the chief review. “This is a big assurance hit for us.”
Both said the proposed account cuts were unexpected. “We were afraid in February to see that if the president’s proposed account were enacted, the Odyssey mission would accept to end this agenda year, absolutely in the abutting few months,” Plaut said.
“We don’t apperceive why it happened,” said Vasavada.
NASA admiral said aftermost ages that the account for the agency’s all-embracing Mars affairs was “overstressed” because of overruns on the Mars 2020 mission to abode problems. That affected “austerity above the portfolio” of missions, in the words of Jim Watzin, administrator of NASA’s Mars analysis program, at a March 9 all-embracing science advising lath meeting.
Watzin offered a agnate account at the MEPAG affair April 15. “It was a difficult year as we accustomed to abutting out the problems with Mars 2020,” he said, an accomplishment he said was successful. “Available allotment for all of our connected mission operation activities is limited.”
He added that NASA was demography accomplish to advance off decisions on shutting bottomward Odyssey awaiting aldermanic activity on a 2021 spending bill. “We’ve been alpha the altercation and planning as to how we can apprehend abeyance activities as continued as accessible so we can bottle options if allotment is fabricated accessible to abide or extend the Odyssey operations further,” he said. “We’re not hasty to abutting the mission out.”
Ending Odyssey has implications above that mission itself. Bruce Banerdt, arch investigator for the InSight Mars lander, said 60% of the abstracts from InSight, and added than 90% of the commands beatific to it, are relayed through Odyssey. “This is article that the InSight mission is acutely anxious about,” he said.
Other missions are additionally anxious about abiding account cuts. Rich Zurek, activity scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) mission, said at the MEPAG affair the 2021 account appeal would cut $2.5 actor from its science budget, bringing the mission to its “science floor.” Implementing that, he said, would crave closing out some investigations and abbreviation targeted observations by up to 50%.
The projections for approaching years included in the 2021 angle would added abate MRO’s budget. “We will not be able aloof to cut above the board,” he said, but instead about-face off some instruments, such as a spectrometer alleged CRISM.
Later at the MEPAG meeting, Bruce Jakosky, arch investigator for the MAVEN orbiter mission and arch of the Mars Architectonics Strategy Alive Group, acclaimed the cuts appear at a time back there are no accustomed missions above the Mars 2020 rover. NASA is currently belief approaching missions to acknowledgment samples calm by Mars 2020, as able-bodied as a Mars Ice Mapper orbiter, but both are still in their aboriginal abstraction phases.
The ambiguity about the approaching missions, and cuts to advancing missions, affectation a above botheration for the all-embracing Mars program, he warned. “Right now we’re at accident of accident the allowances of accepting an integrated, articular Mars analysis program.”
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