Status Report

NASA Editorial Response: Solar System Exploration: More to Come

By SpaceRef Editor
July 9, 2004
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NASA Editorial Response: Solar System Exploration: More to Come

Editor’s note: The following response was submitted by NASA in response to an editorial printed recently by the New York Times. The Times declined to print it.

The Times’ editorial on our trailblazing Saturn mission (“Through Saturn’s Rings, July 1, 2004) eloquently captured the excitement and wonder attendant to NASA’s Cassini mission to the ringed planet. In the days following Cassini’s orbital maneuver through Saturn’s rings, NASA’s website ( received nearly one billion visits, a clear testimonial that Americans remain fascinated by space exploration.

The one aspect the Times misstated is that Cassini “may be the last of its kind, now that a new austerity in space exploration has set in.” To the contrary, bold new planetary exploration missions are planned in furtherance of President Bush’s vision for space exploration. Over this decade NASA will deploy three more missions to Mars to build on the remarkable scientific return of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The rovers continue to set new records for distance, scientific yield and endurance, well past their planned January to April lifetimes! Beyond the Mars missions, add the upcoming Messenger mission to Mercury, the deployment of the Kepler telescope, the completion and launch of the new James Webb space telescope early in the next decade, and the list goes on and on.

NASA also continues to pursue Project Prometheus, a critical effort to develop power generation and propulsion to support missions to multiple destinations in the Solar System that will also provide 100 times more power for scientific instruments. In a planned mission to Jupiter’s fascinating icy moons early next decade, Project Prometheus will enable a spacecraft to conduct multiple on orbit passes of these celestial bodies using its own power rather than gravitational assists. Cassini, for all its great virtues, still relies on the orbital mechanics and fundamental laws of physics that have limited our exploration goals. Prometheus, well beyond the scope and capacity of Cassini, will be a major technology breakthrough to permit timely and thorough examination of the solar system we live in.

Concurrently, the administration’s proposed space budget will support completion of the International Space Station and prompt development of robotic and crew vehicles for a return to the Moon and beyond. Project Constellation will develop a crew exploration vehicle for transport of astronauts beyond low earth orbit for the first time in over 30 years.

If all this constitutes “a new austerity in space exploration” it’s an era Americans have been looking forward to for a long time. About the only thing “austere” is the financial responsibility the Bush Administration is exhibiting. Under the new space exploration vision, NASA’s programs will continue to cost the American taxpayer less than a penny of each tax dollar. The renewed spirit of discovery is upon us.

SpaceRef staff editor.