A group of over 40 lawmakers from California is urging the White House to reverse NASA’s decision to cut funding for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) program. They expressed concerns about potential job losses and setbacks in scientific research.
Led by Representatives Judy Chu and Adam Schiff, along with Senator Alex Padilla, the congressional delegation sent a letter to Shalanda Young, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. They raised alarm over NASA’s recent announcement to slow down spending on MSR due to uncertainties in fiscal year 2024 appropriations.
NASA’s move to scale back MSR activities came after differences between House and Senate spending bills. While the House proposed full funding of $949.3 million for MSR, the Senate allocated only $300 million. Currently, NASA is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that maintains funding at 2023 levels, which is $822.3 million for MSR.
The lawmakers contested NASA’s rationale for the spending reduction, arguing that it could lead to job losses and significant setbacks in scientific research. They emphasized the importance of congressional oversight and urged the administration to prioritize funding for MSR.
Although Congress has yet to finalize the 2024 spending package, recent progress has been made towards reaching a compromise between the House and Senate funding levels for MSR. However, if the current budget cuts are not reversed, it could jeopardize future launch opportunities and lead to contract cancellations and layoffs at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The reductions have already impacted JPL, with the center laying off 100 contractors, most of whom were involved in MSR projects. JPL Director Laurie Leshin emphasized the need for systematic planning to adjust to lower funding levels and mitigate potential staff layoffs.
In addition to budget uncertainties, NASA is reassessing the MSR architecture following an independent review that highlighted schedule delays and budget overruns. The congressional letter suggests that modifying the mission architecture could address concerns raised in the Senate appropriations bill for FY2024.
Overall, the lawmakers stressed the importance of maintaining funding for MSR to ensure continued progress in space exploration and scientific discovery.