There was a tremendous public reaction to Sunday night’s successful landing by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, and the Curiosity rover is in good health as project scientists and engineers check out the rover and its scientific instruments. Some have wondered if the public’s interest in the mission will translate into additional funding for NASA and, in particular, its Mars exploration program, which suffered significant cuts in the administration’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. For the moment, though, there’s little evidence of that.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who spoke out about the Mars program prior to the Curiosity landing, mentioned his desire to increase to restore Mars program funding in a statement after the landing. “This success must reinvigorate our efforts to restore funding for planetary science and future Mars missions,” he stated. “While we have restored some of the funding — almost $100 million so far — much work remains to return the Mars Program to health.”
While several other members also expressed congratulations for the sucessful landing, they didn’t echo his call for increased funding. “The soft landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars is a testament to NASA’s engineering superiority. More importantly, it serves as the most recent and best example of why it is so important for us to continue to invest in deep space exploration,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), in a statement that came closest to supporting Schiff’s call. Both the chairman of the House Scienc Committee, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Democratic committee leaders Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Jerry Costello (D-IL) congratulated NASA for the landing but said little more.
The landing also prompted a statement from President Obama, who called the landing “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.” The statement was as much about NASA’s overall direction, though, as about the landing, also citing NASA’s commercial crew program and the importance in investing in science and technology research. In a press briefing Monday, a reported asked White House press secretary Jay Carney if the president had seen the initial images returned by the rover. “I didn’t ask him,” Carney responded, then mentioned the statement from the president. “But I haven’t talked to him about whether he’s seen these images. It really is quite remarkable.”