KRON: Hundreds of California jobs at stake if NASA Mars mission axed

By Amy Larson

Hundreds of tech and science jobs will be lost in California if NASA moves forward with a plan to cut funding from the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, according to state lawmakers.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.-30), sent a letter on Wednesday to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to reverse a decision to slash the mission’s funding. The funding cut would “result in the loss of hundreds of California jobs, prevent the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from making its 2030 launch window, and lead to the cancelation of billions of dollars in contracts supporting American businesses,” the lawmakers wrote.

JPL is a federally funded NASA research and development center managed by Caltech in Southern California. Lawmakers said they were “mystified” by NASA’s “rash decision.”

If the mission goes forward in 2030, it will mark the first time in human history that a spacecraft is launched from the surface of another planet. The spacecraft would give scientists the opportunity to directly analyze samples from Mars.

It would also pave the way for humans to explore the planet Mars in the future, lawmakers said.

The letter states, “We write to express our strongest opposition to NASA’s recent unilateral and unprecedented decision to prematurely move forward with funding cuts to the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission before Congress has finalized its Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations process. This short-sighted and misguided decision by NASA will cost hundreds of jobs and a decade of lost science, and it flies in the face of Congressional authority. To enable a launch by 2030, we urge the inclusion of at least $822 million for MSR in Fiscal Year 2024.”

The 2023 Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey identified the completion of MSR as NASA’s highest scientific priority.

The lawmakers said the Mars mission should be a national space exploration priority because of its scientific and strategic importance. Space technological innovation is a critical aspect of the United States’ ongoing strategic competition with China and Russia, the letter states.

The letter continues, “China is rapidly expanding its space program with a new space station, a goal of landing taikonauts on the moon by the end of this decade, a stated intention of being the first to return samples from Mars, and an aggressive vision for more ambitious endeavors such as building infrastructure in space, missions to the outer solar system, and creating a space governance system.”

Last month, Padilla urged Senate leadership to include at least $822 million for NASA to keep the Mars Sample Return mission on schedule to launch by 2030.

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