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Planetary Science Is Fading to Black, Claims New Op-Ed

Posted by Casey Dreier

22-04-2013 14:35 CDT

Topics: Space Policy, FY2014 NASA Budget

A powerful new op-ed in defense of NASA's Planetary Science Division was published this week in SpaceNews [paywalled]. The authors, Dr. Robert Braun, former NASA Cheif Technologist, and Dr. Noel Hinners, a former vice-president at Lockheed-Martin, argue that the proposed $200+ cut to this unique program strangles future mission development:

Despite the success that has built up over decades, today we are on a path that relinquishes U.S. planetary science leadership. Starting in 2017, with the end of the Juno mission at Jupiter and the Cassini mission at Saturn, NASA will only have spacecraft at or on their way to one planet: Mars. Most striking is that after four decades of U.S. spacecraft operating in the vast outer solar system, there are currently no outer planet missions of any kind planned until after 2030 — when the European Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer is scheduled to arrive at its destination. In 2017, our insight into much of the solar system will go dark. Because it takes at least five years to conceive, design and implement a planetary science mission, this cliff is not only upon us, it is getting larger with each passing day. The next suite of planetary science missions should already be in development.

...Unfortunately, President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request for NASA continues the draconian path for planetary science laid out in the administration’s 2013 request. Most striking, this budget line is reduced approximately $200 million relative to the 2013 level appropriated by Congress and signed into law by the president just three weeks ago. While a series of Mars missions is scheduled through 2020, NASA remains without plans for the development of missions to any other planets...

Space missions take years to develop, engineer, and fly. The fact that we have no future plans for any missions beyond 2020 means that the next decade will be bereft of exploration. We'll be radio dark in almost every corner of the solar system.

And for what?


Save Our Science

See other posts from April 2013


Or read more blog entries about: Space Policy, FY2014 NASA Budget


sage craft: 04/22/2013 05:08 CDT

President Obama is presiding over the demise of America’s robotic planetary science program. This program is a highly visible and positive symbol of America and an inspiration to the entire world. The President’s answer is to spend billions on a manned architecture which will only take astronauts to an asteroid (ironically captured by an unmanned spacecraft). It is amazing that while he incurs trillion dollar plus deficits, he has chosen not to fund the planetary program to even the modest levels supported by both houses of congress and the American people. His lack of foresight and leadership is disheartening. I am proud to be associated with the Planetary Society and whole heartedly support its congressional outreach. Let’s prevent this shortsighted demise of “our” planetary science program!

Louis Friedman: 04/22/2013 05:45 CDT

Excellent commentary by TPS Advisor Bobby Braun and long-time colleague Noel Hinners. The financial cut does weaken the planetary program especially when we consider that this will delay our long hoped for Europa mission new start even more. But we must also consider that in this day of deficits and sequester, it is remarkable that the Administration supported all three upcoming Mars missions now being built and started a brand new asteroid initiative which will benefit planetary science, solar system exploration and the protection of Earth from potential catastrophic impacts. Finances of the country are a mess, but the half-empty glass is also half-full.

Marcel : 04/22/2013 08:27 CDT

While NASA's manned space program has been trapped at LEO for the last 40 years, those same years have been a renaissance for NASA's planetary program! IMO, NASA's unmanned program should focus on utilizing the SLS for unmanned planetary missions such as: sample returns from the lunar poles to a Lagrange point gateway station where the material can later be brought back to Earth by the MPCV. There should be similar sample return missions for the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, the asteroids Ceres, Pallas and Vesta, and for the Jovian moons of Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. I'm really against spending any more money for unmanned missions to the Martian surface unless they are-- directly related-- to establishing a permanent human presence on the surface of Mars.

Burke Burnett: 04/22/2013 11:13 CDT

Dems have to deal with the reality of a Republican House and the necessity of a supermajority vote in the Senate to get anything done. Note that Obama's budget requests for NASA the last two years have been higher than were eventually approved by the House, which is the body most focused on austerity. SLS is sucking all the air out of the room. Obviously in a pork-driven political world, it's all a bit more complicated than that, but as for the basic decision-making framework, make of this what you will.

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