Washington: The United States has failed to commit to plans for an unmanned joint Mars mission with the European space agency, causing frustration abroad, top NASA officials have told lawmakers.
At issue is a 2009 agreement to develop an ESA-US ExoMars Mission in 2016 and 2018 which would measure methane in the Martian atmosphere and collect rock and soil samples to eventually return to Earth for the first time.
The project has been named as a top priority flagship mission by the US National Academy of Sciences` Decadal Survey, which sets out a plan for NASA space exploration even as lawmakers bicker over federal budget details year by year.
"It can only be done, as the Decadal Survey states, if NASA is able to reduce the cost to less than 2.5 billion dollars," said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA before a House subcommittee yesterday.
"We recognise in this environment of -- difficult budget
situation that we are in, that compromises have to be made,
decisions have to be executed that are based on the
Administration`s priority," he added.
"Currently OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has not
officially notified NASA of cancelling Mars 16 or 18. So those
discussions are ongoing. Of course, we are eagerly awaiting
what the ultimate priorities will be and whether we will be
able to proceed."
According to Steve Squyres, chairman of the NASA Advisory
Council, the budget guidelines set forth by OMB are adequate
for the mission to go forward.
To date, however, the Administration has not committed to
this partnership," he said.
"The designs of the missions are being revamped so that
the Decadal recommendations can be followed and yet there is
no commitment being made. I am perplexed."
Asked by a lawmaker if European space colleagues were
frustrated with the US failure to commit to the project,
Squyres said he felt that was true.