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New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy (2003)

Chapter: Epilogue: A Glimpse at the Future of Solar System Exploration

« Previous: 8 Recommended Flight Investigations and Supporting Ground-Based Activities: 2003-2013
Suggested Citation:"Epilogue: A Glimpse at the Future of Solar System Exploration." National Research Council. 2003. New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10432.
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Page 211
Suggested Citation:"Epilogue: A Glimpse at the Future of Solar System Exploration." National Research Council. 2003. New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10432.
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Page 212

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Epilogue A Glimpse at the Future of Solar System Exploration The road ~~ leads to Me future of my endeavor is usually well defined only ~ id ~art. Quickly' the future Becomes obscured by latent uneer~inties: the possibility of new discoveries' echoing paradigms' echoes in nations policy, blind alleys, md funding pleasures md disappointments. Solar system exploration is no exception. Throughout most of its study' We SSE Survey focused on understanding the current status of solar system exploration md' to the best of its ability, determining the optimum direction for solar system exploration into Me future. This is embodied in the system of priorities presented in Part Two. But where this road will eventually lead in He more divot future is difficult to forsee for all of the above reasons. Nevertheless' He Survey does have significant expeditions ~~ are worm discussing briefly here md that may have value for long-term planing. THE COMPLEXITY OF THE INITIAL VECTOR TOWARD THE FUTILE Four decades of shady progress made possible by increasingly capable missions supported by programs of Earth-based observations' individual research, in~rpret~ional dam analysis, md ~ehnologiea1 development are clearly paying off. Our understanding of the origins, evolution' md nature of planets md moons' md of asteroids md comets' is now much improved over the more superficial view of He 1~ I950s' as is our knowledge of mmy of He speeif~e physical md chemical processes eharae~ri~ie of these bodies. limpid advances have brought us to the point that ~ major investment in sample-return missions' for example, hIars exploration, is now mticipa~. lament telescopic discoveries have opened up new frontiers for understanding processes in the primitive solar system' for example, in the outer solar system beyond Neptune' for which vigorous recormaissmee by robotic spacecraft is the most appropriate strategy. As ~ result eon~mpor~ priorities reflect ~ complex mix of mission types' ~ehnologiea1 demands' md research objectives, all win high scientific merit but win widely differing technical readiness md expeet~ions for completion. This complexity is ~ He root of the difficulties in predicting future outcomes of He exploration program. ANTIC]PATION OF NEW DISCOVERIES All missions currently flying or being prepared for flight md allied ground-based research projects, both in He United Sates md in~rn~ionally' will undoubtedly lead to new md unpredictable discoveries' which is He nature of exploratory projects. Discovery is the essence of exploration. Taken together' missions such as Reset

HEW FR0~ IN =E 50~R HIM Stardu~~ arid Deep Impact cart be expected to have ~ revolutionary effect on our understanding of the role of domed in how giant ply are seeded arid the origins of primitive organic materials arid vol~iles arid their distribution throughout the solar system. In addition' research in closely relend fields such as ~e march for arid charac~riz~ion of ply systems around over Mars or ~e study of protos~llar disks arid early seller evolu- tion' programs ~~ are strongly supported by the astrophysics community' will also yield results ~ unpredictable times in ~e future thy will demar~d ch~ges in the paradigm for solar system formation arid Hereby could charge how solar system exploration is pursued, particularly for the diary ply arid Kuiper Belt objects. The mission priorities offered in this survey are ~ good example of such influences' for they very much reflow discoveries of ~e recent past. The Kuiper Belt-Pluto Explorer thy the SSE Survey advocates so strongly today would have An art unlikely Redid ~ decade ago, before the ground-based discovery of large numbers of Kuiper Belt object exhibiting ~ fascinating variety of physical properties; the Europa Geophysical Explorer would have An art unlikely focus for astrobiology before the detailed explorations of ~~ moon by the Galileo mission just 7 years ago. This experience assures us ~~ the prime scientific focus of solar system exploration ~ decade from now' although not necessarily predictable, will certainly ~ enormously exciting. CHANGE The future of solar system exploration will also be conditioned by ehar~ges in He infrastructure thy guides it the political system ~~ nurtures it, md the public that supports it. All of these Unix have considerable inertia against Tahoe. However' some ehm~es em be mticipa~d: for example, He orison md division of responsibility within NASA,s Office of Space Science may Tahoe. In polities' potential for edge in the level of available resources exists following every nations election' md it must be remembered that the SSE Surveys list of five prioritized medium-class missions in Chapter ~ is based on He out-year funding levels proposed in He Presidentts budget for 2003, funding levels ~~ are nof currently secure. Public support em edge in response to dramatic events' as we have recently seen in the possible discovery of He fossilized remains of extra~rrestria1 life within ~ meteorite' or possibly' in the future, owing to the unexpee~d collision of some modestly sized object (100 m or more in size) win He Earn. All of these complexities em affect He future in urn owable ways. All that we em be sure of is that such eh~ges will occur. Given these uncertainties' is Here fling that we em depend upon to help us understand the future of this endeavor: The broad surveys of the subject in Part One give part of He answer: The future program requires mix between medium- to large~lass missions that em adequately challenge current scientific paradigms. It also requires small missions, whether Discovery, Mars Scout or mission extensions' that em provide focused ways of responding quickly to discoveries made or provide vehicles for en~epreneuria1 creativity md new scientific ideas. The SSE Surveys proposed Kuiper Belt-Pluto Explorer may be the last grew recor~E~aissmee mission within solar system exploration md, if PA One Ells ~ story ~ all, it is ~~ we are rapidly entering ~ phase of large- md medium-class missions operating on He surfaces of planets or within Heir atmospheres md plasma environment that will utilize technologies' yet to be practically developed' thy will enable long sojourns, power advanced instrumentation' md return samples to Earn. These ~ehniea1 development md in situ explorations are essential if we are to achieve acceptable answers to He basic eh~lenges md motiv~iona1 questions discussed in Part Two. Solar system exploration is ~ grad humm endeavor. It seeks to discover the nature md origins of the system of plme~ in which we live, to discover whether life exists beyond Earth, to prepare for humm utilization of places in the solar system, md to underst~d He po~ntia1 dangers of our space environment. Solar system exploration is also ~ in~rn~iona1 endeavor of global extent. That its future is secure seems obvious' even Cough He devils are seen but Trough ~ mist. We are compelled to pursue it nof only because it represents ~ physical md ~ehnologiea1 challenge but also because it places answers to profound questions within our grasp.

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Solar system exploration is that grand human endeavor which reaches out through interplanetary space to discover the nature and origins of the system of planets in which we live and to learn whether life exists beyond Earth. It is an international enterprise involving scientists, engineers, managers, politicians, and others, sometimes working together and sometimes in competition, to open new frontiers of knowledge. It has a proud past, a productive present, and an auspicious future. This survey was requested by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to determine the contemporary nature of solar system exploration and why it remains a compelling activity today. A broad survey of the state of knowledge was requested. In addition NASA asked for the identifcation of the top-level scientific questions to guide its ongoing program and a prioritized list of the most promising avenues for flight investigations and supporting ground-based activities.

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