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NASA warns sequestration could cut missions

NASA Director Charles Bolden tours JPL in Pasadena

Sanden Totten/KPCC

NASA Director Charles Bolden, right, seen here touring the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, told a Congressional subcommittee that sequestration will temper the agency's ambitions.

Sequestration continues to dominate budget discussions on Capitol Hill. The top man at NASA said Wednesday he may have to cut some programs.

NASA has great plans for Mars in the near future. Administrator Charles Bolden outlined the next two decades for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. Next year, the probe MAVEN will study the atmosphere of Mars; in 2016, a small lander called Insight begins its mission to drill deep inside the red planet. A similar version of Curiosity will launch in 2020, with plans to put humans on Mars in the 2030s.

But Bolden said sequestration makes planning tough: "That word keeps coming up because that changes everything that we told you."

Bolden said a decade of sequestration means he either has to cut a billion dollars either in planned missions or people – scientists like those who work at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Lab. "And I don’t think we want to do the people," Bolden said.

Bolden said NASA is already finding ways to save money — for example, the 2020 Mars mission will use the same rover design as Curiosity, the vehicle currently exploring Gale Crater on the red planet. Bolden told the subcommittee NASA is looking for "innovative" ways to fly to the moon of Jupiter, called Europa. But at the moment, he says it's not affordable; NASA can't both fly to Mars and Europa.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, whose district includes JPL and who sits on the House subcommittee, said the budget the Senate is working on is "pretty good" for planeteary science, with a budget closer to 2012 levels. Congress is waiting for the White House to send over the President's budget for next year.


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