MSL Curiosity and the NASA Budget

The public gather in Times Square to watch the Curiosity Landing

By now, you have heard of the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” Rover and its spectacularly successful landing on the planet Mars. This mission is a huge win for NASA, not just in terms of a successful interplanetary engineering feat, but in terms of public outreach. Consider just how many people decided to watch the landing. According to Ustream, 3.2 million people tuned in to the live streaming JPL and NASA HD channels to watch Curiosity coverage, a full 500,000 online concurrently at the time of landing. Additionally, people watching the news on television at the time of the Curiosity landing were considerable: 803,000 Fox viewers watched, 426,000 people tuned into CNN, 365,000 viewers on MSNBC and 109,000 on CNBC according to Neilson television ratings (Mashable). Also, consider the other venues where people were able to take part:
So, the Curiosity landing was popular. Very popular. It seems the entire internet knows about it now. So much so that there are already memes floating around celebrating the Curiosity Landing, However, despite this popularity – despite this fever pitch of happiness for the advancement of humanity into the unknown – the budget for the Mars Exploration program, and NASA in general, is being cut in the new Fiscal year 2013 budget proposed by the Obama administration.

Curiosity landing party at the NASA Ames Center in California

The Obama Administration is asking for a 0.3% reduction in NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2013 (which is a 5% reduction from the proposed budget of FY 2012). You might be saying, “now hold on, that doesn’t sound so bad.” Not so fast. That’s a loss of $59 million. That kind of money affects several programs disproportionately because NASA has to choose which programs and initiatives will get money and which will lose money based on many factors. Essentially, NASA is being forced to cut programs where it can, cancelling some, reducing others and spreading the savings around where NASA thinks would be most effective. In light of these proposals, NASA is apparently having to severely reduce the Mars Exploration Program, cutting its budget a full $261 million! This very much reduces the capacity of Mars exploration for the near-term future. Why the Mars program is specifically being affected more than others is unclear (as Newsday notes), but if the FY 2013 Obama Administration budget recommendation for NASA is followed by Congress, it could mean that Curiosity – already a wildly popular accomplishment – could be the last time humanity does any landing on Mars for a long while. NASA, realizing that its tough times for the agency, has already cancelled the ExoMars partnership with the European Space Agency.

Close up shot of the Curiosity Rover Wheel

This whole situation can be avoided by simply doubling NASA’s budget from its current less than half a penny on the US tax dollar to the audacious, yet minuscule ONE FULL PENNY ON THE FEDERAL DOLLAR. You can see the numbers above…you can see clearly that when the public clamors for more space exploration, for more NASA missions – when they crash NASA servers just to get a glimpse of another world - then the work that NASA does for humanity is greatly appreciated. Our political leadership in Congress very much needs to know how the public feels – how YOU feel about missions like Curiosity. NASA is exploring the Solar System, preparing humanity for its eventual expansion. It is also invigorating the US economy and bestowing new technological innovations into human societies. If there is any question on the economic benefits that NASA bestows upon the United States, then please check out the following links: Economic Impact of NASA Funding or NASA’s Positive Impact on Society or  Economic Impacts of the US Space Program
Remember, there is plenty you can do to make sure that NASA can continue to perform its duty to the United States and to Humanity. Swing by our Popvox widget and Write Your Congressional Representatives. Tell them how you feel about the Curiosity Rover and about NASA’s work in general. You can also spread the word to anyone you know, either in person or online. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr among many other social networks are powerful tools for getting people involved. Additionally, you can donate to Penny4NASA. We are a non-profit organization dedicated to this one task, to increase NASA’s budget up to one penny on the Federal dollar so that NASA has the room to take humanity to the next step. With your help, NASA will take us to the Red Planet and beyond.
Learn how cuts to the U.S. budget will threaten NASA space missions, in this SPACE.com infographic. Source: SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration
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