(credit: NASA/JPL/Cal Tech)
March 17, 2022, was a rough day for Jorge Vago. A planetary physicist, Vago heads science for part of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars program. His team was mere months from launching Europe’s first Mars rover—a goal they had been working toward for nearly two decades. But on that day, ESA suspended ties with Russia’s space agency over the invasion of Ukraine. The launch had been planned for Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is leased to Russia.
“They told us we had to call the whole thing off,” Vago says. “We were all grieving.”
It was a painful setback for the beleaguered Rosalind Franklin rover, originally approved in 2005. Budget woes, partner switches, technical issues and the COVID-19 pandemic had all, in turn, caused previous delays. And now, a war. “I’ve spent most of my career trying to get this thing off the ground,” Vago says. Complicating things further, the mission included a Russian-made lander and instruments, which the member states of ESA would need funding to replace. They considered many options, including simply putting the unused rover in a museum. But then, in November, came a lifeline, when European research ministers pledged 360 million euros to cover mission expenses, including replacing Russian components.