Curiosity, Cassini Among 7 Extended Planetary Missions

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WASHINGTON — NASA approved extensions for all seven missions that were vetted by senior scientists in the agency’s 2014 senior review of operating planetary science missions, a senior NASA official told SpaceNews Aug. 27.

“We sent out the letters to the projects [and] those letters state that we’re not canceling any missions,” Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director, said after a meeting at the National Research Council in Washington.

Green declined to discuss specifics, although he did say NASA would force some of the missions to run “leaner and meaner [by] cutting back in various aspects.”

The details of the senior review board’s findings, and NASA’s formal response to those findings, is to be released the week of Sept. 1, Green said.

The seven missions up for review were:

  • The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity: the car-sized rover that landed on the red planet in 2012 for a two-year primary mission and has been roving ever since, despite sustaining rock damage to its aluminum wheels.
  • The Cassini Saturn orbiter, which arrived at the gas giant in 2004 on a four-year primary mission.
  • The Moon-mapping Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched on a one-year primary mission in 2009.
  • The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed in 2004 on a 92-day mission and is still roving.
  • The Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms-3, a partially NASA-funded instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2004 on a primary mission of just under two years.
  • Mars Odyssey, an orbiter that arrived at Mars in 2001 on a 32-month primary mission.
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2006 on a two-year primary mission.