Emily LakdawallaFeb 18, 2009

Planetary Society Statement on Europa Mission Selection

Here's a statement that we've issued to the media on the selection of the Jupiter mission as the next NASA-ESA flagship mission to an outer planet:

Pasadena, CA, - The Planetary Society today made this statement on the new outer planet flagship mission to Europa selected by NASA and ES

"A mission to Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, will take us to one of the most likely habitats in the Solar System (other than Earth) where life might have evolved," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "The Planetary Society has campaigned strongly to convince Congress that NASA should undertake such a mission, and we are delighted that it is being organized as an international project -- making the mission more affordable and increasing its support."

Blog readers may also be interested in another recent statement by Lou Friedman, "A NASA That Inspires."

As for me -- what's my opinion on the selection? First and foremost, I'm glad to be able to say that we now have the next outer planet flagship mission in the pipeline, regardless of its target. The gap between Cassini and the next mission will be too long.

I didn't read the proposals carefully enough to be able to have my own opinion on which was more deserving in terms of the merits of the mission design. I will say, though, that from the point of view of someone who reads about the results of scientific missions, that Cassini is learning more and more fascinating things about Titan every day. That cuts two ways. Titan must be the target of a future flagship mission. But I was nervous about planning a future mission before we had had time to digest and analyze what Cassini has taught us. At Jupiter, we've pretty much wrung all the observational science we could get out of the Galileo data set -- there, there's not a lot more we can do until the next flagship arrives.

Being relatively young, I do believe I'll see missions return to both Jupiter and Saturn in my lifetime. (Hopefully even in my professional lifetime -- we'll have to see.) I realize this is little consolation to those of you who love Titan and are a few decades older than I. But, purely from a science point of view, I think we couldn't be much more ready for the next mission to Jupiter, whereas there's a lot more we can do with Cassini before the next mission to Titan. So I'm satisfied with the decision. But you know what? Coming later than the next mission to Jupiter, the next mission to Saturn can hardly help but be more productive than the next mission to Jupiter. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

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