President Barack Obama wants to hear immediately from NASA if its Curiosity rover discovers life on Mars. In an 8-minute telephone call today to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built and operates the $2.5 billion rover, the president told lab Director Charles Elachi that such a discovery would “go to the top of the list” of things on his agenda. "Even if they're just microbes, it will be pretty exciting."
Obama used the conversation to tout his Administration’s regard for science education. "They're telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission—maybe even the first person to walk on Mars. And that kind of inspiration is the byproduct of work of the sort that you guys have done,” he told the JPL team, which is part of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He also extended “a personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology."
The president’s sweeping endorsement of research, however, carefully avoids the fact that his 2013 budget would cut funding for NASA’s Mars exploration program by nearly one-third and end the country’s role in two Mars missions planned jointly with the European Space Agency for later in the decade. Both the House of Representatives and a Senate spending panel have added back money for Mars exploration, although Congress is unlikely to settle on a final budget for the agency until next spring.