Rovers are awesome, but where’s the science?

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

2012/12/05 03:55 CST

Now that Casey has explained the budget implications of yesterday’s 2020 rover announcement, and The Planetary Society has issued a formal statement, I thought it was time for me to talk briefly about science.

A quick summary of the situation: NASA announced yesterday that the next Mars mission will be a rover based on Curiosity, in fact using many “spare parts” from that mission (but not science instruments), to be launched in 2020. Because it will be reusing existing design and some hardware, they project the mission cost, including launch vehicle, to be $1.5 ± 0.2 billion, an estimate from an Aerospace Corporation study. The Planetary Society has looked at the announcement and, as far as the budget is concerned, there’s no change to policy here: NASA has merely given a name and shape to a line that already existed. There’s no impact to other programs — at least no more impact than is already being suffered from the $309 million cut that we have been fighting to reverse.

Another Curiosity, sent to a different location (my money right now is on Mawrth Vallis), could be a tremendous addition to and extension of our Mars program, so I’m excited about that. But I have some big concerns about this announcement, which boil down to this: it doesn’t seem to me that science was any part of this decision, and I’m afraid of the consequences of a science-free mission selection.

Read more: Rovers are awesome, but where's the science? | The Planetary Society.

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