The road to Mars just seems to get longer and harder every day.
The Planetary Society has just asked its Members to contact the White House and ask John Holdren, the President's Science Advisor, to make sure that NASA and ESA are allowed to work together on the 2016 and 2018 missions to Mars.
To get the details of this latest obstruction, you can read the text of the message below and, if you'd like to take action, please use this link.
We should know the outcome of these actions early next week, since the ministerial council overseeing ESA will be meeting on October 12.
I'll be monitoring the situation and tweeting the result @PlanetCharlene if you'd like to follow the action on Twitter.
The future of NASA's—and the world's—exploration of Mars is hanging by a thread. And that thread may soon be cut by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB.)
I am writing you to ask that you take immediate action to prevent what could be a fatal blow to Mars exploration for the foreseeable future. Please write to John Holdren, the President's Science Advisor, and ask him to support NASA's Mars exploration program.
Right now, the OMB is considering whether to let NASA accept an offer of partnership—and more than $1 billion dollars—from the European Space Agency (ESA) so that the two space agencies can work together to launch a mission to Mars in 2016 and to follow it with a 2018 mission that would lay the groundwork for the long-sought Mars Sample Return.
To transfer the money, ESA is asking NASA for a letter committing the U.S. space agency to a solid partnership with the European agency. But NASA is an agency of the U.S. Administration and must do as it is told by powers like OMB—and it appears that that White House office is reluctant to let NASA make that commitment.
Scott Hubbard, former "Mars Czar" for NASA, summarizes the situation: "The European Space Agency is willing to put €850 million ($1.16 billion) to collaborate with us. But for reasons unknown, somewhere in the administration somebody is refusing to release the letter that would allow the head of ESA to collaborate with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Why on Earth would you refuse to allow over $1 billion of funding? It borders on the irresponsible."
Mars exploration is expensive—we all understand that. It has reached the point where no one nation—not even the United States—can afford to do it alone. That's exactly why ESA has made this offer to share the cost.
If that offer is rejected, it will cause chaos in Mars exploration programs around the world. All the careful plans so painstakingly developed between NASA and ESA will come to naught.
Humanity's exploration of Mars will be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
We can't let that happen! And we have to act now!
Please, today, contact John Holdren at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and ask him to intervene and let NASA send that letter to ESA. The ESA Ministerial Council is meeting on October 12 and, if they don't see that letter from NASA by then, they may order ESA to back out of is collaboration with NASA to explore Mars.
If you want to see Mars explored, please take action now.