Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1727)

RELEASE: 00-201

NASA announced today that the agency is seeking proposals
from principal investigators and institutions around the world
to develop the first mission to Pluto.

This Announcement of Opportunity marks the first time the
Office of Space Science has solicited proposals for a mission
to an outer planet, such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
and Pluto, to be selected on a competitive basis similar to the
agency’s Discovery Program. That program features lower cost
highly focused missions with rapid development of the
scientific spacecraft. The proposals are due to NASA
Headquarters by March 19, 2001.

“Competition has worked quite well in other NASA space science
programs, and I expect that, through this approach, we will see
a number of creative ideas from innovative thinkers and
organizations that have not been able to participate in outer
planet exploration before,” said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate
Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington,

“In the past decade a number of organizations outside NASA have
gained the expertise to successfully fly deep space missions,
and in the past few months we have heard the calls from many in
the scientific community in favor of open competition in our
outer planet program,” Dr. Weiler added. “I think it’s time to
try this new approach. We hope that opening these missions to
competition will greatly benefit science and space

Dr. Colleen Hartman, currently the Deputy Director of the
research Division for the Office of Space Science, has been
selected as Outer Planets Program Director, and will be the
single point of contact at NASA Headquarters for budget,
content and policy direction.

The decision to solicit proposals comes three months after
unacceptably large cost increases on the Pluto/Kuiper Express
(PKE) mission led NASA to issue a stop-order on the project
Sept. 12 to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena,
CA. Dr. Weiler made the decision earlier this week to open the
Pluto mission to competition. The Europa Orbiter mission will
continue to be developed at JPL.

The Announcement of Opportunity will solicit proposals for
investigations that require the development of a complete
mission to the Pluto-Charon system and the Kuiper Belt beyond,
including expendable launch vehicle and spacecraft, its bus and
systems, and the science instrumentation package.

Following peer-review, NASA will select two or more of the top
proposals for more detailed study and will “downselect” the
winning proposal in August 2001.

There are no restrictions on the launch date but there is a
goal to reach Pluto by 2015. NASA will cap the cost of the
Pluto mission at $500 million in FY 2000 dollars.

NASA is sponsoring a two-and-a-half-day workshop for
scientists, engineers, technologists, and others from academia,
NASA centers, federal laboratories, the private sector, and
international partners to be held in early February. The
workshop will provide an open forum for presentation,
discussion, and consideration of various concepts, options, and
innovations associated with a strategy for Outer Planet
exploration to encourage new ideas, including use of in-space
propulsion, technical soundness, timeliness of science return,
and science merit.

The Pluto/Kuiper Express mission will be the first mission to
explore the Solar System’s most distant planet and it’s moon
Charon, and go on to study smaller icy bodies in the Kuiper
Belt, a vast region of space encircling the Sun beyond Pluto.
The PKE mission will study the composition of the planet’s
surface and thin atmosphere.

The Europa Orbiter mission will probe the surface of Jupiter’s
moon Europa to determine whether there is in fact a liquid
ocean beneath a deep icy crust. Recent evidence from NASA’s
Galileo mission suggest there may be water under the ice,
perhaps at a distance of a few miles. If the existence of such
an ocean can be proven, and if there are organic materials and
a source of energy available under the surface, Europa could be
a prime location to look for signs of life on future missions.

The draft Announcement of Opportunity will be available after
Dec. 26 at: