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Obama's NASA budget: Mars takes a hit, but space science isn't dead

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“If you want to set the decadal survey side by side with the NASA budget you're going to find that a lot of the priorities are being pursued,” says Roger Launius, a former NASA historian and now curator of planetary exploration programs at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Spending levels may not be as high as advocates want, he adds, “but it's not as though NASA said, 'We're not doing this. We're not doing that. Go pound sand.' “

However it certainly doesn't feel that way to planetary scientists who focus on Mars.

Although many could see the handwriting on the wall during the past year, seeing the cuts in a final budget proposal hit them hard.

“Everyone realizes it's austere times, that cuts have to be made and growth curtailed” in spending, says Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University who focuses much of his research on Mars' geology. But many people in the science community and at NASA “assumed that the pain would be spread around”– discomfort introduced in no small measure to compensate for cost overruns in both the James Web Space Telescope and the Mars Science Laboratory, currently en route to the red planet.

Initial estimates for the James Web Space Telescope, slated for launch in 2018, hovered around $1 billion in the late 1990s. Current estimates put the cost at $8 billion.

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