Los Angeles: The NASA which had been planning to send manned mission to Mars has been inflicted by budget woes. The space agency on Saturday put out a call for ideas for the next Mars mission in 2018. However, the cost can't be astronomical and the idea has to move the country closer to landing humans on the red planet in the 2030s.
"This is the kickoff," said NASA Sciences Chief John Grunsfeld. The race to redraw a new, cheaper road map comes two months after NASA pulled out of a partnership with the European Space Agency on two missions targeted for 2016 and 2018, a move that angered scientists.
The 2018 mission represented the first step toward hauling Martian soil and rocks back to Earth for detailed study something many researchers say is essential in determining whether microbial life once existed there.
Agency officials said returning samples is still a priority, but a reboot was necessary given the financial reality. In the past decade, NASA has spent USD 6.1 billion exploring Earth's closest planetary neighbor.
President Barack Obama's latest proposed budget slashed spending for solar system exploration by 21 percent, making the collaboration with the Europeans unaffordable.
A newly formed team will cull through the ideas and come up with options by summer around the time when NASA's latest mission, a USD 2.5 billion car-sized rover Curiosity, will land near the equator on Mars.
NASA headquarters is the ultimate decider of which future projects to fund. Whatever mission flies in 2018, it will be vastly cheaper than Curiosity and will be capped at USD 700 million.