More than 500 people are losing their jobs.

Money Crunch

The first quarter of 2024 has been the season for mass layoffs in many industries, from Snapchat to Business Insider — and now, unfortunately, we can add NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to that list as well.

The vaunted research center will be losing about 530 people, accounting for 8 percent of its staff, plus around 40 contractors, according to an organization-wide memo sent out Tuesday, due to congressional gridlock over the national budget.

And it’s actually worse than it sounds: this is JPL’s second round of layoffs since the start of 2024, The Los Angeles Times reports, because the organization also let go of 100 contractors in January.

JPL director Laurie Leshin explained in the memo that the cullings were due to congressional leaders not finalizing the 2o24 budget for NASA, and space agency leaders deciding to reduce spending for the Mars Sample Return project to $300 million, a sharp drop from $822 million in the previous budget.

Space Jeopardy

Leaders at the space agency sound none too pleased.

“To spend more than that amount, with no final legislation in place, would be unwise and spending money NASA does not have,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement obtained by the LA Times.

NASA is currently funding operations via a continuing resolution, meaning the space agency is funded at 2023 budget numbers.

With the budget still up in the air, it’s not clear what other parts of the agency will be impacted, but Congress has already signaled that the allocations will be less than what President Joe Biden requested.

The Mars Sample Return project, a joint collaboration with the European Space Agency, is particularly likely to be on the chopping block.

The mission to Mars was meant to launch in 2027 and arrive back to Earth in 2033 with Martian soil samples to study if life was possible on the Red Planet. But the LA Times reports that the project was beset with delays and budget overruns and subject to an independent audit.

If NASA never fulfills this mission or is delayed, China may steal America’s thunder in the next decade, because it’s got its own plans to send a probe to Mars to collect soil samples. If nothing else, that might get the attention of Congress.

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