NASA could soon be facing an awful choice. The agency, feeling a budgetary squeeze from Congress, might not be able to fund all its robotic planetary exploration missions after next year.
This year NASA received $16.9 billion, which may sound like a lot but, once adjusted for inflation, is roughly what the agency got back in 1986. Just $1.27 billion of that budget goes into funding all robotic exploration in the solar system. And most space policy experts don’t see that number going up anytime in the near future. In 2014, NASA will put many of its robotic missions through what’s known as a senior review. Administrators will have to decide which of its missions will yield the highest scientific return and may recommend canceling some of them.