Mars exploration to go on even if mission fails, space officials say

Two top space officials pledged Sunday afternoon to continue the exploration of Mars in years to come – regardless of whether NASA’s Curiosity rover survives its dramatic landing later tonight.

“We are committed to a Mars exploration program,” NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld said.

Grunsfeld appeared at a news briefing with Charles Elachi, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, which is managing the $2.5-billion Curiosity mission.

Elachi said that in the final hours of Curiosity’s flight, he turned to the words of Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

“This is a message to the whole world: We are to dare mighty things, even if we might fail,” Elachi said. “Every explorer has had tough days. It was never easy.”

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The officials conceded that much is riding on the success of the Curiosity mission tonight. Elachi called Curiosity “a very important element of the overall [space] program.”

NASA’s budget, like that of many federal government agencies, faces considerable uncertainty in the coming years. There have been suggestions that NASA could be forced to take entire Mars missions off the table, or at least postpone their launch. Grunsfeld insisted that NASA had not been forced to make such drastic moves – not yet, anyway.

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-- Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times

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