ISU MSS 2024

SS&T Committee Expresses Cautious Support for MSR Mission

NASA JPL campus in Pasadena, CA. Credit: JPL

Ibadan, 27 March 2024. – The Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee held a hearing on NASA’s science programs, which revolved around the fate of the Mars Sample Return mission (MSR). The JPL had earlier cut back on its activities around the mission in light of a federal budget that limited spending on the Mars Sample Return mission.

In addition to the financial limits that are fueling the mission’s uncertainty, NASA is also evaluating the future of the mission, following a series of reviews, including a NASA-established independent review from September last year that made swooping recommendations about necessary modifications to the Mars Sample Return. NASA’s Acting Inspector General George Scott also noted that “NASA struggles to establish complete, credible and transparent estimates”, especially for large, complex missions.

However, during the hearing, the mission received support from the House Committee, which noted that it was supportive but cautious about ensuring the mission does not experience the huge overruns and schedule delays of past programs, especially the James Webb Space Telescope.

Space and Aeronautics subcommittee chair Brian Babin echoed these sentiments, saying, “We want NASA to engage in bold, daring missions, but Congress must direct NASA to take on these missions with a clear understanding of the associated costs and risks. Consistent cost overruns and delays can result in other worthy missions being postponed or canceled and can create a reluctance for Congress to provide additional funding or even approve such missions in the future.”

Nicky Fox, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, also explained at the hearing that the decision to lay off JPL staff was to ensure NASA did not violate the Anti-Deficiency Act that prohibits Government agencies from spending money they don’t have.

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