The candidates landing sites for the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory have been winnowed to two: Gale Crater and Eberswalde Crater. Space.com is one of many sites carrying this news. Editorial Thought: Alas, my favorite, Mawrth is out of the running, apparently because the geology of the site was too difficult to figure out. The two remaining sites, however, are both exciting locations, and I look forward to learning about one of them in depth.
Space.com also has an article on the challenges facing scientists as they propose missions for the Discovery program in an era of constrained budgets.
In the first step towards enacting the FY12 NASA budget into law, the House has proposed a a bit less than a 10% cut to NASA's science program, including cancelling the James Web Space Telescope. Science.com is one of many sites summarizing this news. Editorial Thought: This is one of many steps in the dance that eventually results in final ratification of NASA's budget for next year. While this second step (the President's budget proposal was the first step and was largely good news for the science program) has bad news, there is still the Senate's take on the budget to come. And looming over the dance are the overall discussions to cut the growth in the budget substantially. Ultimately, the news for the science program may be neutral to bad (I don't see a scenario where the budget increases over the President's proposal), but we are unlikely to know the ultimate resolution for some time.
The journal Nature has an article on the shortage of senior scientists with experience as mission Principal Investigators for the next round of Discovery mission proposals. Editorial Thought: Most interesting to me was the statement that each Discovery proposal led to "proposals 'from the same guys'." This echoes statements from an abstract at the recent Low Cost Planetary Mission conference, "...as is the case with many regularly offered competitions, proposers often find that they must propose multiple times, improving their mission concepts based on review results and additional study, before a mission concept achieves sufficient quality for selection. This presents NASA with more mature, higher quality mission concepts from which to choose. However, over time, it can also stagnate the pool of proposed mission concepts as the selection pool NASA faces becomes filled with only those proposals that are continually resubmitted and strengthened. Diversity can suffer, and instead of a selection process in which the best, most exciting concepts rise to the top, instead an assembly line of steadily maturing mission concepts waiting their turn for selection is produced." (Opening up the Box: ASRG Missions in the Discovery Program, Curt Niebur). (NASA has at least partially broken this cycle by allowing ASRG plutonium power sources for at least the current Discovery competition.)