On Monday the United States successfully landed the Curiosity land rover on Mars, more than eight months after its launch in November. The land rover weights 1,000 pounds and cost $2.5 billion, and scientists hope it will help them learn more about the red planet before humans are sent there.
The successful landing, which involved a parachute and rocket pack, is an important step for NASA. In recent years, the space agency has faced budget cuts and the elimination of its flagship space shuttle program. Curiosity's two-year exploration of Mars will search for signs that the planet once had the capability of supporting microbial life. The rover has already beamed back three photos of Mars's surface.
"There are many out in the community who say that NASA has lost its way, that we don't know how to explore, that we've lost our moxie. I think it's fair to say that NASA knows how to explore, we've been exploring and we're on Mars," former astronaut and NASA's associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld said after the touchdown.
The Obama administration has supported NASA despite the end of the shuttle program, and wants to send humans to orbit Mars and eventually land on it.
"By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow," President Barack Obama said in a 2010 speech laying out his space policy. "And I expect to be around to see it."
Opponents of space exploration say NASA and its programs are a waste of money and provide no practical value. They say the United States can't afford to be spending billions on programs that do nothing to decrease the federal budget deficit, create jobs, or improve our education and healthcare systems.
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