Some of the celebration surrounding the Mars Science Laboratory's successful landing Sunday night on the Red Planet had a political tone.
The touchdown of the over-budget $2.5-billion Mars rover mission comes as tax dollars for planetary exploration shrink and as companies such as SpaceX make their mark in space transport. President Obama recently cut the Mars exploration budget for the 2013 fiscal year from $587 million to $360 million.
The successful landing Sunday night of the rover nicknamed Curiosity was viewed by many as an important step in preventing further drawdowns of NASA's space exploration program.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) released a statement calling the landing a “remarkable engineering achievement” that should “reinvigorate” efforts to restore funding for planetary exploration and future Mars missions.
“Without the certainty of future missions and support, we will find it impossible to maintain the most specialized workforce on earth — the brilliant engineers and scientists who made this mission possible,” Schiff said.
Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) also noted the economic impact of NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in his statement on Monday.
“[NASA’s] technology has provided us with a wide range of scientific innovations — everything from advanced medical treatments to new energy solutions,” he said. “Their research centers provide well-paying, highly skilled jobs to local communities, including my own district.”
But even amid the political jostling on Monday, there was clearly a sense of relief and joy that Curiosity had landed safely.
Obama's top science advisor, Charles Holdren, joined Schiff, Dreier and other officials in congratulating the team at JPL for pulling off the complicated landing.
“Even the longest of odds are no match for America's unique blend of technical acumen and gutsy determination,” he said.
Holdren hadn't sounded quite so bold just hours before, according to his friend and NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
Holdren, Bolden said, had said he thought he was going to throw up.
Obama chimed in as well about the high-tech rover.
The night's successful landing “parallels our major steps forward toward a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft,” according to a statement from the president, posted on the NASA website. “Tonight's success reminds us that our preeminence — not just in space, but here on Earth — depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.”
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-- Amina Khan at the Los Angeles Times contributed reporting.Follow Jason Wells on Twitter and Google+