Bad Astronomy

NASA chiefs to talk MSL

[Update: There is a wet slippery snow falling here in Boulder, and I have to run an errand shortly before the press conference, so I might miss it. In case I do, check out Emily’s blog or Universe Today, as I’m sure they’ll have updates as well.]

The Mars Science Lab is NASA’s next big Mars mission, with a big rover and a fleet of scientific instruments to explore the planet. It’s hugely ambitious, but has suffered a series of massive budget overruns (see my previous MSL post for details). The blooming budget problem has impacted other Mars missions, and is causing a lot of stress and grief at NASA.

Tomorrow (Thursday), NASA will hold a press conference to discuss MSL. That’s interesting in and of itself, but the people giving the conference are even more interesting: NASA’s top guy Mike Griffin for one, Ed Weiler, who runs the Science Mission Directorate (after Alan Stern left, primarily due to MSL cost issues), Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA HQ, and Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where MSL is being built.

These are heavy hitters, and not your usual scientists who participate in such events. Obviously, they are bringing out the big guns because whatever they have to say, it’s important. I doubt they are canceling the mission, since it’s well under way and canceling it now would be wasting the money already spent. I suspect they will be making statements about the cost overruns, the impact on other missions, and trying to assuage fears that NASA has run amok with this mission. I cannot imagine that it’s a coincidence that this conference is being held a week after Alan Stern wrote a scathing editorial on this very topic in the New York Times.

I’ll be listening in, to be sure, and I’ll report what happens. The conference is at noon (Eastern time).