NASA, which proposed ending the Mars Opportunity rover’s mission for the second year in a row in its 2016 budget request, is still trying to figure out some way of keeping the 11-year-old vehicle operating on the surface of the red planet.

“We will look at what opportunities we have to continue funding Opportunity, but at this time, we haven’t squared all that away,” Jim Watzin, NASA’s Mars exploration program director, told the NASA Advisory Council’s planetary science subcommittee March 30.

Lunar Reconnaissance Observatory
Lunar Reconnaissance Observatory. Credit: NASA

The Mars czar spoke about two months after NASA, seeking to save money to start new missions, proposed ending operations of Opportunity and the 5-year-old Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in its $18.5 billion budget request for 2016.

If NASA decides to keep Opportunity and LRO going without any extra money from Congress, it will require delaying the start of some new mission or ending another ongoing mission, agency officials have said. Opportunity and LRO got a combined $26.4 million in 2014.

NASA proposed canceling both missions in 2015, but Congress restored the funding.

The same scenario looks set to play out for 2016, which would excuse NASA from any internal budgetary gymnastics. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), new chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, promised full funding for Opportunity and LRO during a March 18 Capitol Hill event hosted by the Space Transportation Association advocacy group.


Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.