Status Report

DPS Mailing #02-04: Message from the DPS Chair

By SpaceRef Editor
February 12, 2002
Filed under , ,


The Administration’s FY03 Budget Proposal for NASA has a surprising
amount of good news, but is not without some bad news as well.

First the good news:

There is much good news in this budget and a lot for which to be
grateful. The Administration has proposed to support an unprecedented
long-term plan for planetary science and exploration. This budget
provides for an increase in planetary Research and Analysis programs
for the first time in over a decade, maintains the current level of
support for the Mars program, provides for a new Discovery-times-two
line of missions, and adds money for the development of nuclear power
and propulsion technologies.

The New Frontier missions are capped at twice the cost of the Discovery
line, and funding was provided in the out-years for 3-4 missions in the
next decade. The first AO will be issued this year. The New
Frontier missions are to be competitively procured just as in the
Discovery program, opening up broad new opportunities for the planetary
science community.

Development of nuclear power and propulsion will enable nothing short
of a revolution in the way in which we explore the Solar System,
moving us out of the Conestoga wagon era and into the railroad era
of exploration to quote Ed Weiler. We can now realistically think
about shorter direct flights to the planets, on-site lifetimes of
years to decades, orbiters moving from one planetary body to the next
in one mission, rovers moving across planetary surfaces for years, and
power no longer a premium for science investigations with video data
rates direct to Earth.

And all of this at a time when one could have expected a large
sacrifice in NASA programs to support more urgent national priorities.
Here are a few number comparisons to consider. The FY02 budget called
for a 49% increase in the planetary budget over the years FY02-FY06.
That is remarkable enough, but even after Sept 11 the Administration
proposes to increase that to 73% over the years FY03-FY07. This
includes a 25% increase in planetary flight missions in FY03 compared
to a 12% increase in National Defense during a time of war! Most
Federal programs grew by only 2% in FY03 in this budget, while NASA
planetary grows by more than double that number.

Why did this happen despite huge external pressure on the NASA budget
from national priorities and huge internal pressure from the
International Space Station? Because planetary exploration is a
performer and the OMB has been a strong supporter of planetary
science and exploration in recent years in spite of the difficulties it
perceives in the current outer planets program.

And now the bad news:

The New Frontiers line comes at the cost of the current
Pluto/Kuiper-Belt and Europa orbiter missions. The Administration
replaced these two missions with the New Frontier line based on an OMB
judgment that the Outer Planets line had been performing poorly to cost
and had no clear articulation of priorities.

They have taken away our bus tickets to Pluto and Europa and given us a
book of airline tickets to anywhere in the Solar System we want to
go. That’s hard to turn down, and it doesn’t mean we still can’t
choose to go to Pluto and Europa. The science behind these two
missions remains compelling. New Frontier mission destinations will be
determined by the priorities laid out on the basis of substantial
community input in the forthcoming Decadal Report. The case for Pluto
has been made to NRC committee preparing this report. A mission to
search for direct evidence of subsurface oceans on the Galilean
satellites may be too expensive for New Frontiers, but could be
significantly enhanced by the nuclear technologies scheduled to be
available not much later than its current planned launch date.

We have criticized the Administration for undermining the competitive
process by canceling the New Horizon mission to Pluto. The chapter is
not closed on that mission. At the same time, we must applaud NASA for
expanding planetary-wide opportunities with the New Frontiers program
and for recognizing that competition for these new missions is a proven
way of controlling costs and maximizing science return.

What’s next:

The process now moves to the US Congress. I urge you all to support
these exciting new proposals for planetary science, support the NRC
Decadal Report (to which you all contributed) after it is released,
and work with the Congress this Spring and Summer to insure the best
possible future for the entirety of planetary exploration from the
recommendations of both the Decadal Report and the Administration’s
budget proposal. The surprising support we have gained so far is not
automatic in the Congress, and our voice must be heard on Capitol Hill
to secure their support as well. The DPS Committee will be informing
you as this process proceeds including how you may help. In the
meantime, find out who your representatives are by visiting the DPS
website, or at Send them
letters and visit with them or their staff members in DC or when they
are home in your district.

Wesley T. Huntress, Jr.


Magnetospheres of the Outer Planets Conference
29 July – 2 August 2002, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
This conference provides a forum for research on outer planet
magnetospheres including global structure and dynamics, aurora,
satellite interactions, rings and dust and magnerosphere-ionosphere-
atmosphere coupling.

SpaceRef staff editor.