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NASA proposes $200 million cuts to planetary science; JPL could suffer

The rover Curiosity and other NASA spacecraft at Mars are now in a radio blackout, as the sun is interfering with transmissions. Curiosity took this self-portrait by combining 66 exposures in February.

/NASA

The rover Curiosity on Mars took this self-portrait by combining 66 exposures in February.

To meet a 1 percent overall budget cut, NASA is proposing a $200 million cut to planetary science programs next fiscal year. That could be an ominous sign for Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Lab, the brains behind the successul Mars rover missions.

The agency said it shouldn't have to reduce programs as a result. But members of Congress told the head of NASA today they’re concerned the space agency is trying to take on too much without the funds to back it up. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, said it sounds like NASA is "going to raid" planetary science "and seriously degrade Mars missions." Schiff, whose district includes JPL, said Congress told NASA it didn't want to see cuts to planetary science.

"They’re just not listening," he said.

NASA head Charles Bolden told lawmakers NASA had to make "some pretty tough choices."

But trimming the agency's planetary science budget to $1.2 billion will leave enough money to launch next year's Mars atmospheric mission and another Mars rover mission in 2020, he said.

NASA is also taking on new projects that used to be funded by the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Bolden said “all bets are off” if Congress and the President can’t come to an agreement to call off sequestration.

The automatic budget cuts have already claimed one southern California tradition: JPL cancelled its June open house because of sequestration cuts to this year's budget.

NASA's $17.7 billion dollar budget makes up about half of 1 percent of the entire federal budget. Congress restored some of NASA's funding last year.

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