Can Russia Save ExoMars?

The latest budget for NASA for FY 2013 sees the agency’s Mars exploration program taking a huge hit – it will get $318 million less than FY 2012. This funding cut has forced NASA to withdraw from the ExoMars, the joint mission with the European Space Agency designed to culminate with a sample return. Without NASA, ExoMars is left in pieces and ESA is hoping the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos will take NASA’s place. This partnership could be without payoff since neither country has had great luck with Mars, particularly Russia whose missions have been thwarted by the mythical galactic ghoul. NASA’s withdrawal brings other questions to the forefront as well, like whether the agency has lost its way and will it soon lose its prestige in space. My whole article on the subject was published yesterday on Nature’s Soapbox Science Blog. (Left, an artist’s concept of ESA’a Beagle 2 falling through the Martian atmosphere.)

Comments

  1. says

    Amy,
    I have to disagree about your statement “neither country has had great luck with Mars”. The Beagle lander was more an add-on to the ESA Mars Express mission, the first and highly successful ESA mission to Mars. Beagle was developed by a small team in the UK and was so late that, if I well remember, it was integrated with the spacecraft when the latter was already in Baikonour. It has always been a matter of discussion, and as it had very minimal interfaces with the spacecraft, it was considered just a hitch-hiker (in my opinion it was a good try).
    On the other hand your way to put the situation is a case of “half-full vs half-empty”. In fact ESA had a long history of NASA withdrawals to handle. One NASA bailed out from the mission to Halley, ESA very boldly decided to proceed on its own with Giotto: the very first ESA interplanetary mission, that was also an outstanding success. Same thing with the International Solar Polar Mission. The NASA withdrawal didn’t deter ESA to proceed toward another very successful and long lived mission (they had to switch it off), Ulysses.
    More recently, NASA suddenly canceled its participation in the important joint mission JEO/JGO to the Jupiter system. ESA, a few days ago, once more boldly decided to proceed in this very complex and long mission that will see a new probe, called JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), to travel to Jupiter, fly-by Europe, fly-by Callisto and then orbit Ganimede. This very far reaching mission will be another first for this Agency and it will be yet another resounding success. As the three moons are all thought to have underground oceans and a mineral rich environment, there is good chance that they may host some form of life: actually they are the best place to look for life in the entire Solar System.
    In closing, ESA as an outstanding deep space score (and let’s not forget Rosetta, which is still two years away from her comet on which a lander will be deployed) and your statement fails to convey the seriousness and capability of the European industry. The ability to handle a mission like ExoMars doesn’t come “after your Mars experience” but after your overall engineering experience and methodologies in approaching spaceflight.
    For the rest, I agree with you. It will be anyway a daunting mission and I look forward to it and perhaps to work on it.
    And, of course, I love, and will keep loving, your writing!

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