July 16, 2012 10:52 AM
Is huge Mars rover NASA's last big-budget mission?
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover -- Curiosity -- explores the surface of the red planet in this artist's concept. The nuclear-powered rover is scheduled to touch down on Mars in early August. (NASA)
Funding cuts have forced NASA to shelve plans for future multibillion-dollar "flagship" planetary missions beyond the $2.5 billion Curiosity rover, which will investigate Mars' potential to host past or present microbial life after it touches down three weeks from now. For the time being, the space agency is looking for ways to explore the Red Planet on the cheap.
But over the long haul, NASA still has its sights set on a particularly alluring flagship -- a sample-return effort that would bring pieces of Mars back to Earth for study.
Sources: CBS, Space.com
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