As the Martian dust began to settle around NASA's Curiosity rover, jubilant mission-control scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were treated to a rousing pep talk by President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren. Having just monitored the entry, descent and successful landing of the car-sized Curiosity, they hardly needed anybody to tell them they were good. But Holdren pumped them up a bit more, anyway.
The "most challenging mission... in the history of robotic planetary exploration", he said, "will stand as an American point of pride far into the future."
However, Holdren went on: "Our continued pre-eminence and progress in space and here on Earth... depends on our continuing commitment to science, technology and innovation, and the passion for adventure that has driven us to explore new worlds.
"By maintaining our investment in basic research and exploration we ensure America will remain at the forefront of the scientific frontier."
All of that sounds like very good value for the $2.5 billion that it will have cost to build Curiosity, launch it and run it on Mars for the next two years.
But just in case the President's message was unclear, Holdren added: "The administration is committed to a vibrant and co-ordinated strategy of Mars exploration and planetary exploration more generally."
President Obama, of course, does not need to tell those scientists at JPL they are doing something worthwhile. But Holden surely chose his words carefully, in particular the phrase "a vibrant and co-ordinated strategy", because he was really addressing Congress, which controls the money.
The sad fact is that as things stand NASA has no funded Mars plans beyond Curiosity. A mission with no follow-on does not represent a strategy, let alone a vibrant one.
Nor is it co-ordinated, which everybody at NASA knows it needs to be. Earlier this year, NASA told the European Space Agency that, thanks to Congress's refusal to play ball, it had to pull out of planned joint 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions.
The Russians stepped in, so everybody's Mars goals - including, eventually, a sample return mission - can carry on after Curiosity.
Let us hope, though, that Congress changes course and lets NASA rejoin the Mars effort. Curiosity is magnificent, but it would be a terrible shame if its final achievement was to come to rest at the end of USA's exploration road.
(This first appeared as the main leading article in Flight International 14 August 2012)