Our sources within the planetary science community have alerted us to newly-formed internal budget numbers that spell out, for the first time, exactly what NASA could achieve with a restored planetary science budget.
As many of you know, The Planetary Society has been has been fighting for the return of $309 million to the Planetary Sciences Division within NASA. This would bring the total budget to $1.5 billion/year, about 8% of NASA's overall budget and about 0.04% of the entire federal budget. This funding level includes no additional increases over the next five years to account for inflation. This is a very, very small amount of money. And it's exactly the kind of investment in science and technology that President Obama has said he wants to preserve.
But what exactly does this funding get us? What does this money allow NASA to achieve that it wouldn't otherwise?
- An MSL-sized Mars lander in 2018 that would grab and cache samples for an eventual return to Earth, the first step in a Mars sample return series.
- The "Europa Clipper" mission to Jupiter, to help uncover the mysteries of the moon's subsurface ocean and scout a landing site for a future mission.
- A new Discovery-class mission opportunity that would occur in 2015, one-year sooner than current projections.
Without the additional money, the Mars caching mission and the Europa missions simply would not happen. The Discovery mission announcement would occur in 2016.
Both missions mentioned above are possible because NASA went back to the drawing board and reformulated them to be cheaper and less risky from a technical standpoint.
Remember, these are real budget numbers. This could really happen.
There is so much out there waiting to be known. There is nothing stopping us from exploring these alien worlds except this small amount of money. Do we invest in exploration and our future? Or do we step back, sit down, and quietly do nothing for the next decade?
I don't know about you, but I really want to see those high-resolution stereo images of Europa's surface.
I want to know the surprises scientists would find in the Martian soil using all the tools available to them on Earth.
This is why we fight. Join our effort.
Here's a somewhat technical overview of the reformulated Europa Clipper mission: