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NASA's Planetary Doublespeak

Posted by Casey Dreier

11-04-2013 18:22 CDT

Topics: fun, FY2014 NASA Budget

NASA went on an unusual tweet-binge praising planetary science today, saying that the struggling division "thrives" and highlighting various missions mainly developed in better times. NASA made five tweets in a row about planetary science over the course of two hours.

Maybe NASA feels bad for its Planetary Science Division after the release of the 2014 Budget proposal? The budget doubles down on cuts to Planetary Science, crippling the future of the program. The proposed amount, $1,217.5 million, is about $200 million less than Congress approved the previous year.

Even though the Planetary Society doesn't have anywhere near the audience of 3 1/2 million followers enjoyed by NASA's Twitter account, I feel I should give some context to these (somewhat strange) tweets today:

...which is about $200 million less than Congress approved last year.

LADEE is the last mission of the Lunar Quest program. No further missions to the moon are planned or under development by NASA.

MAVEN is the last mission of the Mars Scout program, which was meant to provide affordable, frequent missions to Mars. No new orbiter missions to Mars are planned or under development by NASA.

The Mars 2020 rover depends almost entirely on funding materializing years from now, there is very little currently available. NASA has not yet confirmed if it will collect samples of Martian rocks to return to the Earth, the stated goal of the scientific community for the next major mission to Mars.

The MESSENGER mission may be prematurely terminated (i.e. crashed) this year due to lack of operating funds.

See other posts from April 2013


Or read more blog entries about: fun, FY2014 NASA Budget


Andrew Planet: 04/11/2013 07:39 CDT

If the Messenger Mission is still viable, why not let it be left orbiting Mercury or, if there is any propellent left, leave it permanently orbiting somewhere else around some other planet or the Sun? Surely, prematurely terminating Messenger whilst it still has an operational life ahead is like planning to throw away good money in the future? Some definite expenditure will have to be made anyway at some time to construct a space vehicle to collect data which is still within Messengers capability to collect now. NASA is always very keen not to waste money, so if operational funding is the issue could not this be effected by volunteers who might be able to fund their own transmission equipment, bolstered by private investment who might be interested in the advertising gained by doing so? NASA preaches a collaborative approach to outer space (see ) and should be able to take the plunge to practice it. Seeing as technology has so evolved so much since Messenger was built I don't think that national security would actually be an impasse to handing Messenger to supranational body to run its operating needs. NASA seems committed to international cooperation in outer space matters. I watched with great pleasure tonight's (CET) Planetary Society Hangout hosted by Emily Lakdawalla and her guest, Heidi Hammel, mentioned how much Neptune and Uranus needed to be explored by technology not yet available due to lack of funding. If space craft such as Messenger were built so fill up such voids in data just by merely filling it up with more propellent for a few final burns to leave it final fixed orbit around some other planet we'd achieve aims well before we are now. Even it a space craft has not been built for a specific purpose, advisedly built for contingencies anyway, as long as it can still be used to obtain new information, somewhere else, then that would have be done faster than any other prospect. Its the same old story. It should be standard practice that because of the inadequacies of the distances involved in space travel, space craft ought to be built for very long term use. If unmanned spacecraft built in the future are not designed to be active for several decades with the capability of being refuelled with propellants or other chemistry, then that would be consensual to wasting money. We should stop treating space craft as the latest purchasable mobile phone with thee very latest on board tech. No matter how old the tech on space craft is, as long as it can still do what it was built for, including contingencies, we are still collecting data. That is was space craft were ultimately built for and if done so will continue do before any new one is built.

Bob Ware: 04/12/2013 11:49 CDT

Andrew - Howdy. I like your basic idea very much. S/C (spacecraft) are built by mission plan, ie: where it is going to relative to our star. The hardware developed is based upon stellar influences and the propulsion is based upon target destination. Taking MESSENGER and placing her elsewhere is not a viable option. Leaving her parked requires 'parking maintenance' or under control of another entity. 'Parking maintenance' would need monitoring and tweaking of the S/C attitude and orbital track and systems health actions from time to time. In some cases, daily. Those costs are not low over the long run. Transference of ownership runs into Congressional/Federal restrictions thus leaving NASA pretty much with no option but to remove the S/C from orbit so that it'll not become a hazard for other space faring countries. When they ask for our S/C orbital parameters we can't say to them, "We have no idea where it is." Unfortunately the list grows from here. Yes I would like to see the mission continue but politically it looks like this mission is ending now. At least we got 100% of the planet imaged. That's a great thing! I do like your ideas and I'd be over joyed if saving MESSENGER could be implemented.

Mark Adler: 04/13/2013 12:52 CDT

All good retorts. Though to be fair on the Scout one: the Scout program was folded into the Discovery program, and the next Discovery mission, InSight, is going to Mars.

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