The Planetary Society today called on the U.S. Congress to restore funding
for the Pluto and Europa missions, following the endorsement of these two
missions in the newly released National Academy of Sciences report, “New
Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy.”

“While the report encompasses all aspects of planetary exploration,” said
Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, “the pressing
issue before Congress is whether they will now overturn the Administration’s
proposed cancellation of the Pluto/Kuiper Belt flyby and Europa orbiter

The National Academy commends the scientific value of exploring these
distant worlds, stating, “A mission to the Kuiper belt, including
Pluto-Charon, will provide the first exploration of this newly discovered
domain in our solar system…The technical readiness of this mission is
judged high…Europa holds the most promise for understanding the biological
potential of icy satellites.”

“The Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission is the best opportunity for exploration of
these objects for decades, if not centuries,” said Friedman. “If the Pluto
mission is delayed, costs will rise and other missions, including the Europa
orbiter, will also be delayed.”

The Europa mission was strongly endorsed in the report as a top priority
because of its potential for the search for extraterrestrial life.

The Solar System Exploration Survey was conducted by the Space Studies Board
of the National Research Council (NRC), part of the National Academy of
Sciences. At NASA’s request, the NRC conducted a planetary science
community assessment of what the priorities in planetary exploration should
be for the next 10 years.

The NRC steering committee asked the Planetary Society, in conjunction with
the report, to poll the public about their views on planetary exploration.
Over 50,000 people responded to the poll on the Society’s web site in just
two weeks time.

The Society has led public interest advocacy for the Pluto mission for
several years, and twice before helped convince Congress to overturn
proposals to cancel the development of a Pluto mission. This year the Bush
Administration also proposed cancellation of the Europa orbiter mission plan
in addition to the Pluto mission.

“We are sending a letter to Congress signed by thousands of people from
every Congressional district in the US asking for restoration of the funding
for the Pluto and Europa missions,” said Friedman.

The Planetary Society is conducting a petition drive on the Society’s web
site at in support of these missions.

The Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission is slated for launch in 2006; the Europa
mission would follow later in the decade.

The Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission would take advantage of the last Jupiter
gravity-assist available for more than a decade. No later mission could be
done before Pluto’s elliptical orbit carries it farther out of the ecliptic
plane, making it hard to reach other Kuiper Belt objects during the same
mission. The planet’s greater distance from Earth would also increase
flight time and communication difficulties, reducing the amount of real
estate that could be imaged at both Pluto and its moon Charon.