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White House Seeks Deep Cuts From NASA’s Planetary Science Program

President Obama addressing NASA employees, journalists, and others involved in the spaceflight community at Kennedy Space Center.  Despite campaign promises in support of America's space program, Obama and the White House have proposed a 20 percent cut to NASA's Planetary Science Program - a move that would surely put an end to the ExoMars mission being planned in joint partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency.  Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

President Obama addressing NASA employees, journalists, and others involved in the spaceflight community at Kennedy Space Center. Despite campaign promises in support of America's space program, Obama and the White House have proposed a 20 percent cut to NASA's Planetary Science Program - a move that would surely put an end to the ExoMars mission being planned in joint partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The Obama White House is hoping to cut 20 percent from NASA’s planetary science program. These cuts will be unveiled in the 2013 fiscal year budget proposal set to be released on Monday. Feb. 13 – and would likely spell the end of the ExoMars mission that NASA has been working on with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The details of the budget proposal were reported by the Washington Post on Thursday.

The cuts would see NASA’s planetary programs budget cut from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion and includes additional cuts for the next five years.

NASA’s Mars program, which landed the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet and seen these robot explorers work for years when they were slated to last for three months (Opportunity is still working on Mars some eight years after landing) would be dramatically reduced. It has not been stated if these proposed cuts would impact the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity, currently on its way to Mars.

NASA had entered into an agreement with ESA in 2009 to conduct a joint expedition to Mars dubbed ExoMars. It was to consist of a lander and an orbiter. The project has been repeatedly redesigned or scaled-back. The 2013 FY budget proposal – will likely mean the complete termination of the project. NASA had promised to contribute $1.4 billion and ESA would have contributed $1.2 billion to the project.

Although the Obama White House has stated it would support NASA’s missions verbally, the administration’s actions have not been what many view as supportive. On the seventh anniversary of the Columbia accident the administration released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012. With no fanfare and little announcement the FY 2012 budget proposal worked to dismantle NASA’s manned space program. Both the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) as well as the Constellation Program (including $9 billion already spent and 7 years worth of work) were scrapped.

Artist's concept of the ESA NASA ExoMars Mission. Should Obama's 20 percent cut to NASA's Planetary Science Program get approved, it would likely kill the mission that NASA has been working with the European Space Agency on. Image Credit: ESA

Artist's concept of the ESA NASA ExoMars Mission. Should Obama's 20 percent cut to NASA's Planetary Science Program get approved, it would likely kill the mission that NASA has been working with the European Space Agency on. Image Credit: ESA

This sparked an outcry amongst private citizens and Congress alike. President Obama traveled to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April of 2010. During his visit, he announced vague plans to have the space agency fly to an asteroid and go to Mars, “sometime” in the president’s lifetime.

Part of the president’s announcement was that a stripped-down version of the Orion spacecraft would be allowed to survive. After the tepid response of Obama’s latest announcement yet another attempt was made to clarify his position. The “National Space Policy” was unveiled – but failed to provide clearly stated goals or objectives. Congress weighed in and a modified version of both the VSE and Obama’s NewSpace-favoring objectives was made.

Already members of the House appropriations committee have stated that they would block the White House’s current round of cuts aimed at NASA.

To those that have watched the Obama White House’s actions closely regarding NASA these recent actions come as no surprise.

“He came down here on the campaign trail talking all about his support of, ‘Moon Mars and Beyond’ – which was the motto of the VSE – and then as soon as he got our votes?  He turned around and cancelled everything,” said a former aerospace worker who wished to remain anonymous. “He then talks all this wonderful stuff about, ‘…no one supports NASA more than I do.’ – But when he visited KSC – did he visit any of the NASA launch pads?  No.  Just the launch pad of his pet billionaire.”

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