Lean U.S. missions to Mars, Jupiter moon recommended

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 7, 2011 8:32pm EST

New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter. The spacecraft was 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Jupiter and 3 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) from Europa when the picture was taken. REUTERS/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Handout

New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter. The spacecraft was 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Jupiter and 3 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) from Europa when the picture was taken.

Credit: Reuters/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Robotic missions to Mars and Jupiter's icy moon Europa should top NASA's to-do list for an upcoming decade of planetary exploration, the National Research Council recommended on Monday.

For the decade 2013-2022, five separate panels of scientists and experts agreed on a suite of missions that would get the greatest scientific return from money spent, recognizing that even these projects could be budget busters.

"We have a long history in the planetary (exploration) program ... of generating cost numbers that are too optimistic," said astronomer Steven Squyers of Cornell University, who led the group that crafted the report and its recommendations.

"The people who truly believe in some project tend to be by nature optimistic and ... that comes back to bite us sometimes," Squyers said in a telephone interview.

This latest decadal survey of planetary science missions included input from an independent contractor to make sure the budgets were in line with what NASA has projected -- to be, as Squyers put it, "brutally realistic."

NASA's proposed budget for fiscal 2011 is $18.7 billion, but Congress is still wrangling over it.

Human space flight, which accounted for about $3.2 billion of the space agency budget in 2010, was not considered in this review.

President Barack Obama followed earlier administrations in recognizing the end of the space shuttle era -- the final mission is due to occur later this year.

He also canceled his predecessor's Constellation moon program, angering some lawmakers and former astronauts who argued that it would make the United States a second or third-rate power in space.

Planetary science, largely accomplished with robotic probes and Earthly laboratories, costs less than putting people in space. Obama's budget request for fiscal 2012 includes about $1.48 billion for planetary science.

BRINGING BACK SAMPLES FROM MARS

Squyers, who was principal investigator on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, said the choice to send space missions to Mars and Europa was based on strong consensus among the five panels.

NASA's top priority, according to the survey's recommendations, should be the Mars Astrobiology Explorer Cacher, or MAX-C, which could help determine whether Mars ever supported life and offer insight on its geologic and climate history. It would also be the first step in an effort to get samples from Mars back to Earth.

However, the report said this mission should only be undertaken if NASA's cost is about $2.5 billion, which is $1 billion less than independent estimates provided to the panel. The mission would be run jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency, according to the survey.

A mission to Europa and its subsurface ocean -- which might support life -- should be the second priority mission, the experts said. But its estimated price tag of $4.7 billion may make it too expensive without an increase in NASA's planetary science budget or a paring of the mission's costs.

The third top priority for large missions should be a $2.7 billion mission to Uranus.

The survey recommended medium-size missions as part of the New Frontiers program that explores the solar system, and smaller low-cost missions like those conducted by the agency's Discovery program.

The National Research Council is part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which are private, non-profit institutions that offer science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (4)
krm398 wrote:
It’s all about the money…while Nasa has wasted more than it used, mostly with special deals for “Contract Plus ” contracts for their friends, like Boeing and others, they don’t get as much money as you might think.

We give away more money to third world countrys,. trying to buy their friendship than Nasa gets in a year. So considering what they get, and what they waste, they still are under funded, if they made better deals with some smaller companys that CAN do the work the mega corps have always been paid for, then maybe they could get more done with what they’re given and congress would give them more as a better investment.

Mar 08, 2011 6:09am EST  --  Report as abuse
USAPragmatist wrote:
Look at all the technology that helped advance our society as trickle down from the race to the moon….

There is no reason we shouldn’t drop $50 Billion on a ‘race to mars’ not only for the pure science of being able to get humans there (and back), but imagine the scientific breakthroughs that we will probably get by this type of investment. We could fund it with a special tax on dirty energy companies (industries of the past) and rich people (they reaping the benefits of our society’s advancement they should pay a little to help it get more advanced).

The development of the transistor was a direct result of the original space race.

Mar 08, 2011 3:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
morbas wrote:
Further manned exploration should be funded by all nations, our economy is global. America’s economic problem stems from inbalanced trade. The USA tax structure is exporting technological development funds, and scientific talent. Just reading the NanoTechnology daily letters highlights the magnitude of foreign technological innovation. We need to increase research and pare down military waste. Libya is highliting the significance of world ineptitude, six YF22’s could easily enforce no fly without the need to strike ground AA…where is it?
The first issue for the ‘World League of Nations’ should be establishing an ‘United Federation of Exploration’. American research will need to contribute and not lag the World to be a World Leader.

Mar 09, 2011 11:49am EST  --  Report as abuse
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