For 20 years, NASA has basically been obsessed with Mars. This summer, NASA's most high-tech rover will land near the Martian equator. And 2016 and 2018 missions have already been planned, with the intention of bringing home rocks from the red planet. But those two future excursions may not come to pass, as NASA faces cuts courtesy of President Obama's latest budget proposal, reports the AP. If the budget passes in its current form, "in essence, it is the end of the Mars program," said a Mars researcher.
"We're really at a crossroads," said the head of planetary science at NASA. Actually, Obama proposes cutting just 0.3% from NASA's budget, one of the smallest reductions of the federal agencies facing cuts. But those dollars will mainly disappear from the Mars program, which means an end to the 2016 and 2018 missions. (NASA is hoping to get a scaled-back version of the 2018 mission back in). One NASA expert says some of the blame falls on researchers, who get approval for cheap missions but then let costs soar—for example, the $2.5 billion Curiosity probe that will land on Mars this summer is almost $1 billion over budget. Mars researchers are meeting with NASA officials today to try to figure out how to reboot the program beyond 2013. (Read more NASA stories.)