The Planetary Society has learned that NASA and the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) are seriously considering the cancellation
of the Pluto Express mission now in development by JPL. The mission
was being planned for a 2004 launch – the last opportunity for
a decade to take advantage of the Jupiter gravity assist for reaching
the planet.

The Society is urging strong action (see below) asking Congress
to intervene to forestall any attempt to cancel the mission.

Pluto is the only planet in the solar system not explored by
spacecraft. It is an object of intense interest and mystery to
scientists. Speculations abound about it being part of a double
planet with its companion Charon, about it being a burnt out comet
or a large asteroid, or even a planet in its own right.

Why cancel its development? The argument is that NASA cannot
afford to do both a Europa orbiter and a Pluto flyby, even though
these missions were part of a previously approved outer planets
exploration program (which also included a solar probe that would
reach the Sun by a different Jupiter gravity assist).

Recently, NASA delayed the Europa orbiter – from a 2004 launch
to 2006 or 2007. The reasons for this delay were technical: the
Europa orbiter requires new technology for power and radiation-hard
electronic components.

Delaying the Europa orbiter is bad enough – but that was a technical
decision. Canceling the Pluto mission would be a political budgetary
decision. Either administration support for space science is now
diminishing or NASA is returning to the old days of fewer, more
expensive missions.

The Planetary Society strongly believes that both the Europa
orbiter and the Pluto mission should be done (as well as the solar
probe), and reasonable financial resources exist in NASA and in
the U.S. to afford these missions during the time period of 2004-2008.

Congress and the American people have not been heard from, and
we urge both to get involved to prevent a precipitous and premature
action, without debate, by the Administration.

We are urging our members and all interested citizens to contact
their congressional representatives – and ask them to urge NASA
and the OMB not to take any action against the Pluto mission at
this time.

You can write your
congressional representative here
. Letters or phone calls
are better than e-mail. The key message is to ask them to contact
NASA and the OMB. Writing your own letter and sending it via fax,
or contacting your representatives by phone is best – an e-mail
is OK, but not as effective.

Your actions really do count. Working together we can help save
this fading opportunity to compete humanity’s reconnaissance of
our solar system.