Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

No Outer Planets Flagship Mission on Horizon, but Planetary R&A OK Says NASA’s Jim Green

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2013
Updated: 10-Jan-2013 11:14 PM

NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director (PSD) Jim Green reiterated today that the agency’s anticipated budget for the foreseeable future cannot accommodate a “flagship” mission to the outer planets, but that does not mean the outer planets science community should stop making the case for one. He also insisted that funding for research and analysis (R&A) in the PSD budget is healthy, but he is open to suggestions on how best to manage it.

Green spoke to NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), which is meeting in Atlanta, GA. The planetary science program suffered a dramatic 21 percent cut to its budget in the President’s FY2013 budget request, causing great consternation in the U.S. and international planetary science communities. The headline from that cut focused on NASA’s subsequent withdrawal from planned cooperation with the European Space Agency on two Mars missions, but the outer planets community also was sharply impacted.

The “outer planets” are those past the asteroid belt — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — and includes investigations of their moons and Pluto. Pluto was recategorized as a “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union in 2006, but some still argue that it is a planet. At today’s OPAG meeting, NASA’s Curt Niebur pointed out that a fifth moon of Pluto has been discovered and exclaimed “If you’ve got five moons, there’s no way you’re not a planet.”

NASA has one operating outer planets mission — Cassini, which is studying Saturn and its moons — and two on their way: New Horizons, which will arrive at Pluto in 2015, and Juno, which will arrive at Jupiter in 2016. All three will complete their missions by 2017, so the outer planets community is obviously concerned about its future thereafter.

Read more: No Outer Planets Flagship Mission on Horizon, but Planetary R&A OK Says NASA's Jim Green — Space Policy Online.

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