Press Release

NASA Makes Progress Toward Planetary Science Decadal Priorities

By SpaceRef Editor
August 7, 2018
Filed under ,

Copies of “Visions into Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022: A Midterm Review” are available at or by calling +1 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.

Despite significant cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies. The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey’s recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages.

The decadal survey, “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022“, recommended a suite of planetary science flagship missions that could provide a steady stream of important new discoveries about the solar system as well as prospective mid-size missions and science, research, and technology priorities. It also included a set of decision rules on how to deal with funding shortfalls as well as possible increases. The new report assesses progress made by NASA so far and offers recommendations for preparing for the next decadal survey.

“Since the publication of Vision and Voyages, planetary science has made many advances, including acquiring results from several highly successful missions,” said Louise Prockter, director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, and co-chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “This decadal survey has served the planetary science community well, justifying a plan for planetary science that has been successful in supporting research and obtaining steady funding for missions.”

NASA has begun development of two of the decadal survey’s top recommended flagship missions, the Europa Clipper, an interplanetary mission that will place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the moon Europa, and the Mars 2020 rover, which will collect samples for eventual return to Earth. However, the committee noted its concern about the aging infrastructure orbiting Mars, which is vital for communicating with the rovers on the surface. The loss of one or more of these spacecraft could make it difficult for NASA to support the return of samples from the surface of Mars.

“NASA has made a strong investment in technology that has exceeded the Vision and Voyages recommended levels,” said committee co-chair Joe Rothenberg, former NASA associate administrator for space flight, Goddard Center director, and co-chair of the committee that conducted the new study and wrote the report. “This investment has not only enabled science missions in this decade, but is providing for the long-term technology development needed for missions in the next decade, including the Mars sample return program and the exploration of planetary bodies with extreme environments.”

The committee developed recommendations for the remainder of the decade based on categories including large strategic missions, NASA’s Mars exploration program, telescopes and planetary science, and education and public outreach. Among the recommendations:

* Continue to closely monitor the cost and schedule associated with the Europa Clipper to ensure that it remains executable within the approved life-cycle cost range.
* Continue planning and begin implementation of NASA’s proposed “focused and rapid” architecture for returning samples from the Mars 2020 mission so as to achieve the highest priority decadal flagship-level science.
* Reevaluate the Mars Exploration Program, which currently has only the Mars 2020 rover in its future missions queue.
* Continue investment in development of mission-enabling technologies at 6 percent to 8 percent of the Planetary Science Division’s budget.
* Link education and outreach activities directly to the missions that are providing the science content for those programs, working directly with mission scientists and engineers to ensure a strong connection to NASA’s mission results.

In preparation for the next decadal survey, the report recommends that NASA sponsor eight to 10 mission concept studies that include options described in the Academies report, Getting Ready for the Next Planetary Decadal Survey. Concept studies have value for the next decadal survey, enabling science objectives to be defined, the overall mission scope to be determined, and the community to begin preparing for the next decadal survey.

The mid-term study was funded by NASA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit

Kacey Templin / Andrew Robinson
Media Relations Officer / Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
+1 202-334-2138

Copies of “Visions into Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022: A Midterm Review” are available at or by calling +1 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Space Studies Board
Committee on the Review of Progress Toward Implementing
the Decadal Survey “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Sciences”

Louise M. Prockter (co-chair)
Lunar and Planetary Institute

Joseph H. Rothenberg (co-chair)
Independent Consultant
NASA (retired)
Darnestown, Md.

David A. Bearden
Formerly with The Aerospace Corporation
Senior Capture Lead and Strategist
Office of Formulation
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Scott Bolton
Associate Vice President
Southwest Research Institute
San Antonio

Barbara A. Cohen
Planetary Scientist
Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Md.

Andrew M. Davis
Professor and Chair
Department of the Geophysical Sciences, and
Professor of Geological Sciences
Enrico Fermi Institute
University of Chicago

Melinda Darby Dyar
Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor and Chair of Astronomy
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Mass.

Alan W. Harris
Research Scientist
MoreData! Inc.
La Canada, Calif.

Amanda R. Hendrix
Senior Scientist
Planetary Science Institute
Niwot, Colo.

Bruce M. Jakosky
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
Department of Geological Sciences
University of Colorado

Margaret G. Kivelson*
Professor of Space Physics, Emerita
Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, and
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
University of California
Los Angeles

Scott L. Murchie
Planetary Exploration Group
Space Exploration Sector
Applied Physics Laboratory
Johns Hopkins University

Juan Perez-Mercader
Senior Research Fellow, and
Principal Investigator
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Mark P. Saunders
Independent Consultant
Folly Beach, S.C.

Suzanne Smrekar
Senior Research Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

David J. Stevenson*
Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science
California Institute of Technology


Dwayne A. Day
Staff Officer

*Member, National Academy of Sciences

SpaceRef staff editor.