Opinion: Curiosity’s Success Spotlights Obama’s Failure

With the safe arrival of Curiosity to the Red Planet a rather poorly-worded congratulatory letter highlights a truth that the Obama White House would have been better-served if it was forgotten. Curiosity illustration courtesy of NASA/JPL. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

With the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity last week, one thing has become very apparent – NASA can do almost anything. Therefore it is a shame that President Barack Obama has decided to not support the men and women of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There are many Obamanauts that wish this was untrue – but Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Proposal would decimate NASA’s planetary missions and this proves the president is more of an Obama-not.

A letter issued by the White House shortly after Curiosity’s safe landing on Mars, glosses over the inconvenient Truth that within Obama’s 2013 Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Proposal – NASA’s planetary missions would be slashed by 20 percent – this would mean no new missions to the Red Planet for some time and uncertainty as to what level of support current missions would receive.

Enter the apologists and Obama supporters who try to reinvent history. Those who would parse words, revisit what the true meaning of “is” is and those willing to deny that the FY 2013 Budget Proposal was even issued. Those that support space exploration efforts refuse to “move on” and ignore the president’s actions. A review of the president’s letter points to an oblivious administration or one that believes the nation has no long term memory. The words that are most troublesome in the president’s letter have been placed in bold.

Office of the Press Secretary
August 6, 2012

Statement by the President on Curiosity Landing on Mars

Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.

The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.

Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.

I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover. 

Thanks to the president – the “longest of odds” for future JPL missions will be far, far longer. The president had the eye-watering nerve to mention investing “wisely” – if the president believes we should “invest wisely” a mention that appears to suggest support for JPL and organizations like it – then why did he submit a budget that guts JPL’s planetary budget? It makes one wonder if the president even knows what in his own budget requests.

How could Obama not support NASA and JPL? Sadly, the answer appears to lie in party politics.

The Democratic Party has long been accused of pandering to those who achieve less – or those that choose to not achieve at all. The argument goes that this helps guarantee Democrats have a voter base dependent on the party and the entitlements it doles out. Following this line of thought what has been done to NASA makes perfect sense.

You need funds to fuel entitlement programs for those that either can’t or won’t do for themselves – where do you get the funds needed to support these programs? Simple, you take them from the programs of groups who not only accomplish things on their own – they accomplish things that stun the world and thus serve as an example for the world. These organizations are not filled with men and women who are looking for a hand out.

In Obama’s defense one could say the president was forced to draft his FY 2013 Budget Proposal in the worst economy since the Great Depression. However, a little honesty goes a long way and owning your decisions carries a lot of weight. It is in this regard that the president’s statement regarding Curiosity successful landing – fails the smell test. As bad as it sounds it would have been preferable if the president stated in his letter he wished he could support NASA more but the economic reality prevented him from doing so.

He didn’t do that, however, and comments that should have been left out of his congratulation letter – weren’t omitted. This makes his congratulations hollow and his letter’s sentiment insulting for those aware of the contents of the FY 2013 Budget Proposal.

Bobak Ferdowsi, a flight engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory became an overnight sensation when his patriotic stars and stripes haircut inspired the nation and his team’s accomplishments inspired the world. No surprise there. NASA’s habit of daring and accomplishing mighty things has made the agency a beacon of light – one which Obama seems determined to dim.

The president’s lack of support of JPL points out another nagging inconvenient truth and that is he has a problem keeping his campaign promises. The president promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He failed. He promised to cut the deficit by half – he doubled it – failing again. He promised to support NASA and instead submitted a proposal that would severely impact NASA’s ability to conduct and support future planetary missions – failing for a third time. Three strikes – you’re out. NASA has showed us yet again that the agency deserves strong support, something that Obama is unwilling to provide. It’s time NASA was given a leader that supports the men and women of NASA, a leader that provides the agency the support it deserves.

Recent CNN article detailing Mars exploration history and current planetary mission woes: http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/11/tech/innovation/mars-exploration-history/index.html?hpt=hp_c2


  1. Obama is just being a typical politician. And typical politicians typically don’t care much for the space program — even if they say the opposite.

  2. Even Kennedy only did Project Apollo for political and military reasons. Nixon praised the Apollo 11 crew, then cancelled the last Apollo missions. Reagan honoured the returning STS-4 crew, then cut the NASA budget. It goes on and on. Space has always been a pawn in the hands of short-sighted administrations. The key is to move away from government control and into the hands of private enterprise.

  3. Neither Obama nor Romney give a rat’s a** about the U.S. space program or the benefits it provides knowledgeable citizens both materially and psychologically.

  4. This has nothing to do with Democratic pandering. Obama has consistently tried to give NASA more money than Congress wants. The Republican dominated House has been in the lead in reducing the President’s requests.

    Charlie Bolden explained the decision very clearly. ExoMars is an expensive flagship program. It would require more money than would be available through the rest of the decade to support. NASA will look at less expensive options.

    You combine a flat or decreasing budget profile, the need to our human spaceflight program back in operation, the high costs of SLS and Orion, and the overruns on the can’t-be-canceled Webb telescope, and the decision is understandable. It’s a very painful decision but one that can be understood if you look at the financial picture.

  5. Too bad this article takes such a partisan tone in pinning NASA/JPL funding shortfalls all on Obama. NASA’s always been a political football, with smiling politicians standing by to take credit while cutting funds off camera.

    Many readers remember Nixon’s phone call during the Apollo 11 EVA, followed by his greeting the crew on the USS Hornet after splashdown. The budget cuts that followed shortened the Apollo program, and forced NASA to accept dangerous design compromises building the Space Shuttle.

    JPL’s Mars initiatives have produced great bang for the buck over the years. With all the billions NASA has poured into the Webb Telescope, you’d think they could find a way to beef up funding for Mars.

  6. It is inconceivable that President Obama should shoulder the blame for NASA inadequate funding. The genesis of NASA funding for ambitious scientific funding stems from President Nixon to President Bush. NASA has been treated like a scientific stepchild. Over 20 thousand products came out of NASA science and technology that has made our lives more significant. NASA had great plans for planetary explorations (robotic and manned) but we decided to enhance our Military Industrial Complex. Projected plans if enacted would have seen American science labs on the Moon and Mars with robotic missions launched from Mars to Jupiter and Saturn moons. It is ashamed we strayed away from the perfect vehicle for launching planetary probes (Saturn V and proposed Nova HLLV). These vehicles would have given America unprecedented launch capabilities.
    Coupled with our massive advancement in High Performance Computational Fluid Dynamics and Simulations; America’s space presence would have been unparalleled. I cannot blame this administration for a lack of adequate funding. It is up to us to place pressure on our political representatives to see that we do not become a 3rd world industrial entity.
    I hope we all remember how we did not build the Super Conducting Collider which was superior in design to LHC. That should ring a bell.

  7. Add to the other excellent points made in these comments the circumstances of two NASA programs: the James Webb Space Telescope ($8 billion plus and counting), and … the current Opportunity mission, two years late and the better part of a billion dollars over budget. We keep inventing new designs for Mars missions to explore only one or two locations. But with Mars, we keep aiming for “spectaculars” in the old Soviet sense. If it were just about science, we could be doing more build-to-print missions, reusing designs and making refinements to instruments and rovers for better capabilty. Then we could explore many more areas of the planet. Instead, with MSL, we went to a budget-busting nuclear-powered Martian SUV – too expensive to be likely to be flown again. Due to its complexity, it’s finally there after missing the last launch window – and just after budget cuts have been instituted. What if we’d taken a more measured step, and had been exploring Mars since the last launch window? Maybe we’ll learn to work smarter within a constrained budget, and do something else – maybe a Phobos lander and sample return ala the failed Russian Phobos Grunt, or more surface missions using hardware closely derived from previous flights. I fear the answer to that is simply that they’re not new, different and exciting enough – or quite possibly, wouldn’t mean employment for enough voting constituents.

  8. There would be plenty of money for Mars if Obama did not bury this country in 17 trillion in debt……and he still blames others for his massive failures!

  9. Jason and Jim hate Obama, hate Lori Garver, hate democrats. Is anyone surprised that this appears on their website?

    • Then why are you here? To a Democrat, if you do not agree with them then you are a hater…….

  10. Presidents lead and Congress follows when it comes to Nasa. What I’m listing are facts, these facts tell us something about Obama’s priorities.
    First Mars probe 1964 and till 2012,every decade has seen new probes going to Mars except the 1981-1990 period. That means every president since 1964 has funded Mars except Jimmy Carter. Because of Carter there were no Mars craft in the 1980’s.
    Outer planet exploration got started in 1972 and every decade has seen a new probe launched to the outer planets.
    Obama hasn’t funded either a Mars mission or a outer Planet mission. As a result should he be re-elected we will have at least 10 years without any new missions BEO. Is Obama anti-science or something?

    • Your partisanship is showing. Blaming Carter for the lack of 1980s Mars missions (ignoring 2-term Reagan) is a textbook example of the kind of knee jerk political posturing that is paralyzing our government today.

      I’ve only been reading AmericaSpace for a few weeks, and have enjoyed it thoroughly until I saw this Op-Ed article. IMO I wish they’d keep their noses out of politics. In today’s environment, this type of editorial only brings the nutjobs out of the woodwork, to no one’s enjoyment or enlightenment.

    • JohnDB. I laid out facts till the last two sentences. No partisan ship at all and I didn’t blame Carter, I noted he didn’t fund a Mars probe. A fact. Reagan funded Mars Observer in 1985. That is a fact.
      Obama hasn’t funded a planetary probe. That is a fact.
      Partisanship comes in, if at all, when I speculate that he won’t approve these missions in his next term. His history so far gives me little confidence. Are you sure he’d do it?

  11. Get serious! There was no Mars mission in the 80’s because of Carter? Carter, who was in charge for 4 years at the end of the 70’s 12 years of Republicans and followed by another 12 years of Republicans. Yeah he was an idiot but in this case he had tons of company.

    Thankfully Space Exploration is moving away from public funding. That way it can’t be used as a political football and then intentionally misrepresented by chowder heads like you solely to make political hay. And in such a way that you can’t possibly fool any but the most dim of voters.

    Those really interested in the science of space aren’t going to be listening to rhetoric from the right or the left (talking about you RGO) but once we move away from the politicians things will finally get done.

    And people won’t be able to blame the scientists and engineers for cost overruns and time overruns which are caused intentionally by politicians by messing around with budgets on programs every single year.

    We’ll finally get somewhere in space when people make serious long term investments and stop micro-managing the whole process. It’s going to happen, let’s get those hard working people out to the 100’s of companies now committed to aerospace projects. And the sooner the better we need their knowledge and we need to get rid of the “management” both NASA and Congressional bureaucrats in order to finally get the best we can out of our people.

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