Long before NASA’s Galileo mission arrived at Jupiter in 1995, the
mission faced cancellation, one of a series of “survival crises” NASA’s
planetary program has encountered over the last half-century.
(credit: NASA)

Planetary science turns to history to help guide its future

by Jeff Foust
Monday, November 19, 2012

It’s a tough time for NASA’s planetary science program. A proposed budget cut has the scientific community worried about the prospects for future missions, including exploration of Mars and the return of samples from the Red Planet. Hopes for doing other ambitious missions, such as to Jupiter’s icy—and potentially habitable—moon of Europa or elsewhere also appear to fade in light of the proposed long-term budgets for the program.

But then, things could be worse, because they have been before.

That was one of the key themes of a two-day symposium held in Crystal City, Virginia, last month. The “Solar System Exploration @ 50” meeting was organized by the NASA History Program Office to mark the 50th anniversary of Mariner 2, the first spacecraft to visit another planet. The intent of the meeting was to look back at five decades of missions by NASA and other space agencies to other worlds in the solar system, and many of the papers presented there did look at various technical, scientific, and programmatic aspects of those missions. Throughout the event, though, there was an undercurrent of advocacy, as attendees looked to the problems of the past to offer guidance for the planetary program’s current challenges.

Read more: The Space Review: Planetary science turns to history to help guide its future.

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