11 APRIL 2014 VOL 344 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 138
The robots that explore the solar system on
humanity’s behalf face multiple hazards.
Rockets fail, instruments break, human
error kills a spacecraft. But now, NASA’s
spacecraft face another mission-ending
threat: the federal budget. NASA has put
two long-lived but still productive planetary
science missions on the budgetary chopping
block, daring Congress to swing the ax. The
agency is also asking researchers on other
long-lived missions to explain why theirs
should live on if others must die.
Both the hardy and much-loved
Opportunity rover—which has been
exploring the watery history of early Mars
since it landed in 2004—and the 5-year-old
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) were
left out of the president’s fiscal year 2015
budget request released last month. Both
missions, however, still have a chance to
save their science. This week, proposals are
due to NASA from the researchers running
six major projects—including Opportunity
and LRO—that have successfully completed
their prime missions and are looking for a
fresh piece of the NASA budget to operate
for another 2 years (see graphic, 139).
NASA has routinely conducted such
“senior reviews” in the past, but it always
found a way to let still-kicking robots live on.
This time is different. Funding for NASA’s
Planetary Science Division has been under
pressure in recent years, with the Obama
administration proposing a series of cuts. For
the 2015 fiscal year that begins 1 October, for
instance, the White House wants to trim about
5% from the division’s $1.35 billion kitty, to
$1.28 billion. Congress often rejects such
proposals, and sometimes adds funding. That
could be difficult this year, however, because
lawmakers are operating under a relatively
austere $1.102 trillion cap on discretionary
federal spending. So NASA may have to find
ways to fit both new and existing projects into
a flat planetary sciences budget.
One mission new to the senior review this
year already has a strong claim on funding
for an extension: the Mars Curiosity rover.
NASA officials are unlikely to cut off the
$60 million annually it needs to keep roving.
The squeeze could force the agency, for the
first time, to turn off a still capable planetary
mission, or even two, unless Congress comes
to the rescue.
Running the gantlet
No one is saying exactly why NASA singled
out Opportunity and LRO for execution, but
apparently the administration decided that it
couldn’t afford the $35 million required to
keep them alive. Congress could give them
a reprieve, the White House says, by agree-
ing to a package of revenue-raising policy
changes, known as the Opportunity, Growth,
and Security Initiative, that could provide an
additional $187.3 million for NASA sci-
ence. That idea is unlikely to fly, however, so
it appears that Opportunity and LRO team
members are going to have to sell NASA on
their ability to do new science well worth the
That task could be formidable. After
10 years and 36 kilometers of roving, the
$400 million Opportunity rover is walking
wounded. It has one bum wheel and its
instrument-laden arm has a frozen shoulder
joint. Its two instruments for identifying
minerals are useless; team members have
had to make do with a less capable sensor.
NASA to Researchers: Sell Your Mission or Be Terminated
Ever more Mars? The Opportunity rover (foreground)
has been leaving tracks in martian soil for a decade,
but NASA funding troubles threaten its mission.
of the other end of the goat.”
In fact, even if a healthy animal is born
in August, huge hurdles remain before a
healthy new population roams the Pyrenees.
For starters, scientists will have to create
a male ibex—and they have only female
cells. One possibility would be to transfer
a Y chromosome from a related species,
specimens in museums and edit the DNA
of cloned embryos to reflect the diversity
found there, he says. The animals could then
be “rewilded,” as has been done with other
captive populations, such as the condor.
Many conservationists worry that
bringing back extinct species will weaken
efforts to protect existing populations and
biologist and conservationist Stewart Brand,
the founder of a nonprofit organization that
funds de-extinction work.
If the effort fails and he can raise more
money, Brand says he would be delighted
to fund future research on the bucardo. For
now, the work has an unlikely benefactor:
The cloning efforts are bankrolled by the
Aragon Hunting Federation, which says it
now promotes conservation and is keen to
see bucardos roam the Pyrenees once again.