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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 18, 2007

Budget Axe Falls on Mars Science Laboratory

We just posted a notice from Lou Friedman on science cuts that were recently announced on Mars Science Laboratory. The action was taken to beef up the mission's reserve funds (to the tune of $75 million) and lower its risk. The cuts include the removal of MARDI, the descent imager (whose capability is said to be entirely replaced by the ability to take high-resolution images of the landed rover by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter); they are also removing a planned zoom capability from the mast-mounted high-resolution imaging system. A weird part of the cuts is that they are stopping funding for another instrument, ChemCam, which is the one that shoots a laser to vaporize a target rock and remotely analyze the chemical content of the vapor. This isn't an outright cancellation; instead it seems to be a statement that NASA won't pay any more to fund it, so somebody else better step in. I've never heard of that before. Losing ChemCam would be a disastrous hit to Mars Science Laboratory; it's the only remote (as opposed to in situ) chemical analysis tool that the rover has. MSL doesn't have a MiniTES like the rovers -- ChemCam would replace it.

Another thing that seems strange is that these apparently large cuts to science tools represent a small fraction of the total amount of the shortfall they were seeking to make up, something on the order of a few millions of dollars.

Anyway, you can read what Lou thought about it all here. The Society has sent a letter (PDF format, 300k) to Senator Barbara Mikulski protesting the cuts to science on the mission.

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NASA / JPL

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Mars Science Laboratory was to be equipped with a laser that can vaporize small amounts of rock for analysis from a distance with the ChemCam spectrometer mounted on the rover's mast.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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