American Astronomical Society
Division for Planetary Sciences
Astronomers have expressed their major concerns over the NASA-directed work stoppage for the Pluto-Kuiper Express Mission (PKE).  The American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) committee has urged that NASA and the US Congress to find a way to fund this important mission, but not at the expense of other equally important planetary missions or its basic research and analysis programs.
A stop-work order was issued last week by NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, Dr. Edward Weiler.  The stated reason was ballooning costs for the entire Outer Planets set of missions at JPL (which also includes the Europa Orbiter and Solar Probe), due largely to increased costs for the launch vehicle and RTGs.
The DPS committee noted that if work on PKE is not resumed before the end of calendar year 2000, it is likely that the 2004 launch opportunity will be lost, and the earliest arrival date would slip by at least 7 years (from 2012 to 2019 or beyond).  Pluto is the only planet not yet explored by spacecraft and is therefore of great interest and importance to the planetary science community.  It is also moving rapidly outward from the Sun from its perihelion passage in the early 1990s, and if this mission is delayed beyond the 2004 launch, the opportunity to study the tenuous Pluto atmosphere may be lost for centuries.
The DPS, with a membership of 1225, is the world’s largest organization of professional scientists devoted to exploring the planets and other bodies of the solar system.
For further information, contact:
Dr. Ellis D. Miner
DPS Press Officer
Dr. Robert M. Nelson
DPS Chair