Curiosity, NASA’s latest Mars rover, is set to touch down on the Red Planet just under five days from now, on August 6th. The mission, in which the largest-ever vehicle sent to Mars will search for evidence of past life, will cost NASA $2.5 billion dollars. Past Mars missions have also been costly: “The Viking missions alone cost nearly $1 billion—in 1970s dollars. The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity cost a total of about $1 billion to build and operate as well.” Many would agree that the search for life beyond Earth satisfies a fundamental human urge to explore and gather knowledge, but critics say NASA’s singular focus on Mars comes at the expense of other possible missions.
What’s the Big Idea?
Astronomers say that evidence of past life on Mars would make the chances of finding life elsewhere in the Universe much higher. But compounded by proposed budget cuts of $227 million to NASA’s Mars exploration budget, some experts are questioning the wisdom of focusing so intently on a single planet: “Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is covered with an ice-encrusted ocean, could have the potential to harbor life; Saturn’s moon Titan, rich in organic chemistry, might as well.” David Jewitt, a planetary scientist at UCLA who studies comets, likens a singular focus on Mars to the person who loses their keys but only looks for them under the streetlight.