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House committee restores money for JPL's Mars programs

Artist's Concept of Mars 2020 Rover, Annotated

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planning for NASA's 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on re-using the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012.

The House Appropriations Committee sent a scathing message to the White House Thursday, accusing the administration of "damaging and disproportionate" cuts to NASA's planetary science budget. The committee voted to restore $100 million in funding that will directly benefit Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Lab. 

The Obama administration recommended $1.2 billion dollars for planetary science. Not enough, said the House Appropriations Committee. The reduced amount would, according to a committee statement, "drive uniquely qualified and promising talent out of the field, perhaps permanently."

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank said it was necessary to use strong language to reiterate that Capitol Hill supports planetary science: "We want to go forward with the Mars 2020 mission, we want to go forward with the mission to Europa, we want to continue America's leadership in planetary science and they need to stop sending us these inadequate proposals."

Planetary science is the bread-and-butter of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL wouldn't comment on which projects would be directly affected by the funding, but $288 million of the overall NASA budget is designated for exploration of Mars — including the 2020 Rover.

This is the second consecutive year that the House has restored funding for the space agency. Schiff said planetary science may get even more money when the Senate tackles NASA's budget.

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