According to a report by Space.com, NASA came to the decision in response to a 20% cut in their planetary science program budget, with even more cuts possibly to come. This means that NASA will be backing out of the multibillion-dollar “flagship” projects in favor of “cheaper, more efficient projects”–at least for now.
NASA was originally planning to take part in the European-led ExoMars missions, but the budget cuts have forced NASA to back out of the missions.
“Instead, we will develop an integrated strategy to ensure that the next steps for Mars exploration will support science as well as human exploration goals, and potentially take advantage of the 2018-2020 exploration window,” NASA chief Charlie Bolden told reporters. “The budget provides support for this new approach.”
NASA was also planning a sample-return mission, which would bring a piece of Mars back to Earth for astrobiologists to take a look at. Such a mission would fall under the “flagship” (expensive) category, however, so scientists shouldn’t expect the planning to come to fruition anytime soon.
We’re all folks who dream about science, dream about future science, dream about exploration, dream about Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “I would certainly hope that, within 20 years, we have our first carefully selected samples of Mars back here near Earth or on Earth, in laboratories where we really can do the tough work to understand the climate conditions on past Mars, current Mars and the possibility that life might have existed there once.”