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Spaced out: Obama to cut funding for Mars program

According to The Washington Post, the Obama administration will unveil a new budget on Monday that will slash spending on NASA's Mars rover program by 20 percent next year, with more cuts to come.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launches last November from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA's Mars Science
United Launch Alliance

Mars enthusiasts hoping the United States will soon be exploring the Red Planet will likely get some bad news next week.

According to The Washington Post, President Obama's next budget will slash funding for Mars and Jupiter rovers by as much as 20 percent. The budget is expected to be unveiled on Monday.

The Post reported that the Obama Administration has briefed scientists on its proposed budget, which would slash funding for NASA's Mars program from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion annually. And further cuts are proposed over the following four years.

The cuts are likely to be a big blow to researchers who have been working diligently to promote Mars missions. Over the last few years, NASA has sent a number of probes into the planet's orbit and has successfully landed several on its surface. Last November, NASA launched its Curiosity rover, a $2.5 billion project that should spend more than two years investigating a 100-mile Martian crater, looking especially for organic compounds and trying to detect evidence of past or present habitability.

"We're doing all this great science and taking the public along with us," Jim Bell, president of the Planetary Society, and a scientist working on NASA's Mars rover Opportunity, told the Post. "Pulling the rug out from under it is going to be really devastating."

In addition to the spending cuts for the rover program, Obama's budget also calls for a severing of the partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency on Mars probes that were to have been launched in 2016 and 2018, the Post reported.

And while Congressional Republicans have spent much of their time in the majority talking about the importance of cutting government spending, at least one member of the GOP's House delegation is unhappy with the administration's new Mars plans.

"You don't cut spending for critical scientific research endeavors that have immeasurable benefit to the nation and inspire the human spirit of exploration we all have," Rep. John Abney Culberson (R-Texas) told the Post.