For one, next Monday, an all-hands meeting of the Mars Exploration Rover team is slated to discuss financial belt-tightening and impact on the Mars rovers. Turn off one of the rovers? That might save some money. On the other hand, slip the MSL to 2011 could relieve budgetary and schedule pressure? All rumors, if not heavy-breathing paranoia.
The MSL is the Mars Science Laboratory, which is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2009.
What prompted this, you may ask? One reason is the fantastic success (go figure!) of the Mars Rovers. They’ve greatly exceeded their expected lifetimes, and are now cutting into budget years that no one expected them to be part of. The MSL was expected to replace them, and indeed, much more money than expected has been budgeted to the MSL, and it was budgeted partly because of the Rover’s success.
NASA’s over budget Mars Science Laboratory mission, scheduled for a 2009 launch, may be delayed due to problems with the atmospheric re-entry shield design. A new shield will cost up to $30 million, adding to the $1.8 billion price tag, $165 million more than planned.
Another reason was given by NASA chief Mike Griffin, at the recent Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas. “Mars is not an entitlement program.” he says.
And of course, there are other deep space missions NASA would like to undertake, too. So many planets, so little money.
Lastly, Michael Griffin has publicly endorsed Sen. McCain for president. Although McCain has made several statements indicating strong support for NASA, several pundits have questioned his judgement on science issues.
Normally, even I would say that the last is no reason to think he would place NASA budgets under more constraints. But one thing gives me pause – John McCain.