The Planetary Society steps up its campaign to save the Pluto mission by presenting thousands of letters supporting the Pluto-Kuiper Express to Congress on Wednesday, October 18. The Society will hand-deliver over 5000 pieces of mail each to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Chair of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, and Senator Bill Frist, Chair of the Senate Science, Technology & Space Subcommittee, in Washington, DC.
The Society's campaign to convince Congress to provide additional funds to enable NASA to launch the Pluto mission on schedule and continue the entire Outer Planets Program has generated thousands of messages to Congress by mail, fax, phone and e-mail.
In September, NASA issued a stop work order to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Pluto mission. The 2004 launch, originally scheduled to arrive in 2012, will be the last opportunity for more than a decade to take advantage of the Jupiter gravity assist needed to reach this mysterious outpost in our solar system.
"Pluto is the beginning of the Frontier, much like the Appalachians were to Lewis and Clark," said Mike Drake, Director, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona. "America must not lose the opportunity to reach for this frontier, Pluto, the last planet in the solar system, and thrust beyond it to the icy objects that hold the building blocks of the solar system in deep freeze."
The Society launched a campaign in July to urge its 100,000 members and the interested public to take immediate action asking Congress to forestall any attempt to cancel the mission.
Some scientists believe the thin atmosphere of Pluto will freeze to the surface as the planet moves in its orbit further from the Sun, with the next thaw occurring over 200 years from now, around 2230. The longer the mission is delayed, the more likely it will be that the mission will lose the opportunity to study Pluto's atmosphere.
The Pluto-Kuiper Express, along with the Europa orbiter, is part of NASA's Outer Planets Program. NASA delayed the Europa orbiter -- from a 2004 launch to 2006 or 2007 -- because of technical concerns. The Europa orbiter requires new technology for power and radiation-hard electronic components. However, canceling the Pluto mission was more of a budgetary decision. NASA's budget has steadily decreased over the last eight years.
"We at The Planetary Society strongly believe that both the Pluto mission and the Europa orbiter can and should be launched on schedule," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "Reasonable financial resources exist in the U.S. to fund all these missions by giving a modest increase -- say 2% -- to the NASA budget."
The Planetary Society's campaign has demonstrated to Congress the public's support of this mission to complete the reconnaissance of all nine planets in our solar system.
"The popularity of and interest in this mission might be underestimated by NASA and the Administration," said Friedman. "The Society urges NASA to resume its own support of a Pluto launch in 2004."