An example of how closely Canadian technology and expertise is embedded into the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is provided by the August 11th, 2012 post on the Space.com website titled "NASA Rover's New Red Planet Address: Yellowknife, Mars." The article quotes Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger as stating the the MSL site was named in tribute to the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories, a city that has long served as the jumping-off point for geologists interested in studying North America's oldest rocks.
Canadian built technology aboard Curiosity includes the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer ( developed by a team of Canadian researchers including Ralf Gellert at the University of Guelph and others from the University of New Brunswick Planetary and Space Science Centre, the University of Western Ontario Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration and others under the direction of prime contractor MacDonald Dettwiler) plus the image sensors for the various navigation and hazard avoidance cameras (which were built in the Teledyne DALSA semiconductor foundry in Bromont Quebec).
|Brock University scientist Mariek Schmidt, who is part of the team working on the latest NASA Mars mission.|
As well, according to the August 11th, 2012 Toronto Post article "Can humans live on Mars? Canadian scientists looking for the answer," at least three Canadian scientists will be joining a team of 29 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories, starting in September to begin sifting through the data being provided by the rover.
Any connection to the successful and publicly popular American Mars rover should reasonably be expected to boost the fortunes of the embattled Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the space industry in general.
Unfortunately, that's likely not going to happen. According to the August 7th, 2012 Florida Today article "NASA hopes recent successes will boost its support in Congress," space experts are concerned that:
NASA’s recent successes, remarkable as they are, don’t change the fiscal climate that is compelling President Barack Obama and Congress to constrain the size of the federal government.As outlined in the February 25th, 2012 post on the Spacepolicyonline.com website "Mars Shaping Up as NASA Budget Battleground" the FY2013 NASA budget includes a 20% decrease in the planetary exploration budget, which has forced NASA to withdraw from a series of planned Mars missions with the European Space Agency (ESA) that were intended to lead eventually to returning a sample of Mars to Earth.
If lawmakers are unable to agree on a deal to reduce the deficit cut at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, automatic spending cuts at almost every federal program will take effect in January.
Although not identical, a similar situation prevails in Canada, where the current Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains committed to a series of long-term austerity measures and federal cutbacks (as outlined in the March 29th, 2012 Conference Board of Canada's federal budget analysis) which are designed to balance the federal budget by 2014-2015.
According to the CSA 2012 - 2013 Report on Plans and Priorities, the overall CSA budget will decrease from $388 million CDN in 2012 - 2013 to $289.1 million CDN in 2014 - 2015 with the budget for space exploration (a bucket which includes both manned and unmanned projects like the MSL) decreasing from $151.0 million CDN in 2012 - 2013 to $93.0 million CDN in 2014 - 2015.
Oddly enough, the report indicates that CSA salaries (expressed in terms of FTE's or full time equivalents) will remain at exactly the same level (687 FTE) during the entire three year period covered by the report.
|Diagram of the MSL spacecraft: 1 - Cruise stage; 2 - Backshell; 3 - Descent stage (the "Sky crane"); 4 - Curiosity rover; 5 - Heat shield (4.5 m diameter); 6 - Parachute. From wikipedia.|
According to the March 1st, 2012 Spaceref.com article "GAO Summary: Cost Overruns, Schedule Delays, Ongoing Technical Problems With Mars Science Laboratory" which referenced excerpts from the March 1st, 2012 "NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects" report (GAO-12-207SP), the overall cost of the MSL mission is approximately $2.5 billion USD and the project costs have increased "$881 million since its original baseline in 2008, which includes an 84 percent increase in development costs."
All of which suggests that MSL is not a paragon of fiscal responsibility and its success will not likely lead to calls for increased funding for space activities any time soon.