House Committee to Look at Future of Planetary Exploration

House Committee to Look at Future of Planetary Exploration

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing about the future of the planetary exploration program next week.

Witnesses are Jim Green, director of the planetary sciences division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and Steve Squyres, chair of the National Research Council’s recent decadal survey on planetary science.

Budget constraints at NASA are heightening concerns about what the future holds for the U.S. planetary science program. With the launch of NASA’s next Mars probe, Curiosity, just weeks away, what will come next is an open question. Grand plans of merging the U.S. and European robotic Mars exploration programs are endangered by NASA’s inability to commit funds to planned missions in 2016 and 2018. U.S. plans for large “flagship” missions to destinations like Jupiter’s moon Europa are in abeyance until the budget situation stabilizes. In recent meetings of NASA’s planetary science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), Green has been alerting planetary scientists to the need to explain the return on investment in planetary exploration. Squyres, best known as the father of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, was just named as the new chair of NAC.

Still, in response to a recent op-ed in the Washington Times lamenting the state of the planetary science program, Green said that the U.S. program is still the best in the world.

The hearing is at 10:00 am EST on November 15 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

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