“Don’t scuttle the fleet before we reach the far shore,” The Planetary
Society is urging Congress. For the first time since 1970, the
Administration is set to cancel the development of future outer planet
probes, and the Society is calling on Congress to restore funding for a
Pluto/Kuiper Belt flyby mission and a Europa orbiter.

“Emperior Zhu Qizhen of China recalled his fleet of exploration in 1433 just
as it was about to sail into the uncharted Atlantic Ocean,” said Louis
Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. “Do Congress and the
Administration want to follow in the footsteps of a man who stopped his
nation from exploring new worlds?”

Since the 1960’s the U.S. has explored every planet in the solar system
except Pluto. Pluto is located in the Kuiper Belt, a ring made of millions
of icy bodies orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune. Kuiper Belt objects are the
oldest and most primitive bodies in the solar system and may be the source
of water and organic material delivered to Earth in its early history. The
Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission will visit several of these objects in addition to
making the first ever visit to our outermost planet, Pluto, and its moon

If the Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission is cancelled now, the best opportunity for
exploration of this frontier planet will be lost for decades, if not
centuries. The Pluto/Kuiper Belt flyby takes advantage of the last Jupiter
gravity-assist available for more than a decade. This opportunity makes it
possible to carry out the mission at a total cost of less than $500 million.
No Pluto mission will ever be cheaper. No other mission can be done before
Pluto’s atmosphere is expected to freeze as the planet moves further from
the Sun on its elliptical orbit.

There have been three previous attempts to cancel the Pluto/Kuiper Belt
mission. Now the Administration has decided to postpone the entire outer
planets program indefinitely. It says that NASA will begin two new
initiatives – a line of mid-sized missions called New Frontiers, as well as
nuclear propulsion for future outer planets missions. But nuclear propulsion
will not be ready to fly for many years. The currently proposed Pluto
mission, called New Horizons, can be flown in the next few years and exactly
fits the guidelines for New Frontiers.

The Europa mission is also of extraordinary scientific importance. Nowhere
in our solar system besides Earth — and maybe Mars — do we expect to find
a planet with so much liquid water. Water under the surface of ice-covered
Europa may be a nurturing ground for life.

The Europa orbiter would not qualify as a New Frontiers mission. If its
cancellation is allowed to stand, no other mission would take its place in
the foreseeable future.

The proposed cancellation of these missions was not a financial decision. In
fact, their replacements will cost more. A relatively small budget increase
would allow outer planets exploration to return to the NASA budget – and the
Pluto and Europa missions to continue.

” We should not repeat the shortsightedness of the Ming emperors,” said
Friedman. “We should not scuttle our fleet before it sets sail.”

Members of The Planetary Society urge Congress to restore the Outer Planets
exploration program to the NASA budget and to continue its support of
previous years for both the launch of a Pluto mission in 2006 and the
development of a Europa mission.



Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in
1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the
search for extraterrestrial life. With members in over 140 countries, the
Society is the largest space interest group in the world. Friedman is
Executive Director of the Society; Wesley T. Huntress, Jr. and Neil deGrasse
Tyson respectively are the President and Vice-President.


For more information about The Planetary Society, contact Susan Lendroth at
(626) 793-5100 ext. 237 or by e-mail at susan.lendroth@planetary.org.

The Planetary Society

65 N. Catalina Ave.

Pasadena, CA 91106-2301

Tel: (626) 793-5100

Fax: (626) 793-5528

E-Mail: tps@planetary.org