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NASA's latest mission to Mars he's sending a rover named curiosity.
To explore the red planet it is due to land next month.
But budget cuts could mean this'll be the last visit to Mars for quite some time Andy's raising new questions about the future of America's space program.
Let's get into it with Tom Jones a frequent guest of -- a former shuttle astronaut and -- -- and a Fox News contributor also the author of planet apology.
Derrick Pitts is chief astronomer of the Franklin institute planetarium and Scott Horowitz.
Is a former NASA NASA astronaut as well and the president and CEO of -- aerospace welcome to each of you.
Tom do you first talk about this mission that is the last Mars mission.
Planned for quite some time.
It's going to be a pretty technologically sophisticated thing it to get this Lander on the ground on the martian surface explain what they're gonna do.
Very ambitious landing system for curiosity John because.
The rovers to dig it weighs about a ton the size of a Mini Cooper to get it down using an ordinary Lander would be too high up in would have trouble driving -- -- -- so they're gonna lower it.
With -- suspending the rover from a harness and as the rover touches gently down the rocket system we'll cut the -- -- -- -- -- called sky crane.
Never been flight tested because we don't have mars' gravity back here so NASA's putting two and a half billion dollars in face on this system.
They don't lot of component testing but the real -- Proof will be on August 5.
All right so Derrick if they can get this thing on -- the -- surface of Mars.
Safely and effectively and and the thing actually works its nuclear -- as I understand it.
What do they hope to learn.
What they're really looking for our environments.
Where it may have been possible for life to flourish on Mars in the distant past so the analysis that's gonna take place.
Is to see what the soils look like and see what chemical components are there.
That might indicate that the environment was right at some time for it like to have existed on Mars.
All right so if that's true Scott I mean if they if they figure out one way or the other -- -- this mission isn't going to tell us.
Yes there was life or no there wasn't as it.
Well -- You know it's it's science so it depends on what you find and what the data tells us.
Meaning you might be able to determine life did exist.
Of course the first thing you is are the conditions are where the conditions.
Proper for life to exist but the big question is not in life exists but what we send life -- sometime in the future.
That is the big question because of the budget situation -- it doesn't look very likely -- has at NASA's budget is shrinking right.
That overall budget is shrinking it's about eighteen million dollars this coming year in NASA's.
Budget first space science for planetary science and Mars in particular has been dialed back -- a White House.
And the OMB to about 120% lower than it used to be so that means.
No more big flagship missions like this curiosity rover there might be future orbiters.
But -- had to pull out of European collaboration on future Mars exploration and we're reversing our number one lead in Mars exploration just at the time when we should be capitalizing on that experience.
Tom I'm envious of both you and Scott I mean I grew up at a time when the astronauts you know and let's.
Scott Carpenter and the others were were my heroes of childhood.
And yet manned space flight is a very expensive thing everybody says you can do it cheaper with -- robots but even this mission was supposed to cost what.
600 million dollars in the initial going.
And turned out costs what two point six billion how do you justify that kind of expands Tom let's give -- a lack of -- All right overall this kind of science exploration is what the US excels -- It -- people with awe and wonder and inspiration when we uncover new secrets of the origins of life on Mars for example.
And in human explorers I hope -- one day be able to follow up.
These robotic discoveries and really get to the the rub of these questions you know.
Is life there are now -- it like did life exists there in the past that would really answer the question are we alone.
That's fundamental I think that's what we should be pursuing and human explorers have a role to play in that.
And Derrick -- you spent a lot of time there at the Franklin institute looking up -- Mars what would you like this.
Probe to answer this explore.
Well justice as Tom said you know the question here that we're trying to figure out is.
Where the conditions right for life on Mars at some time in the past and as Scott said.
Is there -- could there be any life there in the future.
You know -- and what we find anything now actually.
And so these are all really important questions because the big question of all this astronomical research is that very big one are we alone but you know the question we have to ask ourselves actually is.
Do we want to lead in this kind of space exploration if we do then we have to step up to the plate if we don't -- -- -- then we have.
To follow the Scott I'm not one of those who thinks that you know the moon missions for instance was wasted money but you know it's time of trillion dollar deficits in this country.
How do you justify spending more money to go to a place like -- Well it's just like when I balance my checkbook and like you do at home you decide what's important and you decide what you spend your money on right now we spend less than one half of 1% of the federal budget on NASA.
If we just increased it back to what it was in say 1991 at 1%.
NASA could do a lot more of the things had been put on its plate and do them a lot better so.
That you know I tell people we spent a lot of money on Apollo and going to the moon and the big benefit wasn't that we got a lot of technology out of it isn't motivated a whole generation of scientists and engineers.
Doing great things in space.
Will help the US lead in space exploration and will get the next generation prepared to lead us into the future.
But Tom I know that you're also one of those who has said that private industry can be doing a lot of of those jobs that NASA has been doing up till now.
-- has a role and in particular can take over some of the routine cargo and and transport.
To the International Space Station but.
Commercial industry is not going to do Mars exploration this is -- NASA excels this is where we're at the cutting edge of technology.
We're the only country that knows how to land big things on Mars and do science there.
And I think we should not give away that's lead that's that's superiority.
That's a technological edge it can be very valuable across the technology board and we shouldn't be -- Read withdrawing from this enterprise just when we're starting to hit the big payoff.
Let's hope this thing works when it gets to Mars and makes it very tricky landing in August.
Tom Jones Derek -- Scott Horowitz.
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