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?