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Conclusion Missions Recommended by the SSE Survey In setting priorities for solar system exploration in the next decade, the SSE Survey considered missions to a diverse set of targets, from Mercury to beyond the orbit of Pluto. The missions described in the previous pages are a subset selected from this larger sample on the basis of the importance of the scientific issues they will address, their technical and fiscal feasibility, and, more intangibly, their ability to take best advantage of available opportunities. Prioritized List of New Solar System Missions for the Decade 2003-2013 Priority in Cost Class Mission Concept Name Flight Missions Small (<$325 million) 1 Continuation of the existing series of Discovery missions 2 Extended operation of the ongoing Cassini mission to Saturn Medium (<$650 million) 1 Kuiper Belt-Pluto Explorer 2 South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return 3 Jupiter Polar Orbiter with Probes 4 Venus In Situ Explorer 5 Comet Surface Sample Return Large (>$650 million) 1 Europa Geophysical Explorer 2 Preparation for Mars Sample Return Ground-based Facility Small (<$325 million) 1 Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Other Mission Concepts with Future Potential Other mission concepts thought by the SSE Survey to be extremely valuable either were too expensive or difficult to undertake with current technology, or depended on having certain scientific questions answered before the missions would be ready. These concepts are listed on page 27 in order to give some direction to the solar system exploration program as the current set of mission concepts recommended for 2003-2013 nears completion. 26 New Frontiers in Solar System Exploration
Candidate Missions for Flight After 2013 Medium Class Large Class Geophysical Network Science Mercury Sample Return Titan Explorer Asteroid Rover/Sample Return Venus Sample Return Uranus Orbiter with Probes Io Observer Mars Sample Return Neptune Orbiter with Probes Ganymede Observer Europa Lander Neptune Orbiter/Triton Explorer Trojan/Centaur Reconnaissance Flyby Saturn Ring Observer Comet Cryogenic Sample Return Future Mars Missions Prominent by its relative absence in the preceding lists of potential future missions is mention of missions to Mars, whose unique nature as the most promising planetary abode for life in the past, and the most likely target for a future human exploration mission, keep the Red Planet in a special category. NASA has recognized this special status by establishing the Mars Exploration Program Office, an organization parallel to NASAâs Solar System Exploration Division that concentrates exclusively on martian research. The Mars Exploration Program already has under development the slate of missions pictured in the diagram on page 10. Swarms of cooperating microrobots explore the martian surfaceâthe future of solar system exploration? 27
Final Thoughts When the SSE Survey began its task of charting the goals and priorities for NASAâs solar system exploration activities in the period 2003-2013, it was far from clear where its deliberations would lead. As discussed in the preceding pages, current scientific understanding of the solar system, combined with the aspirations of the planetary-science community and moderated by technological and fiscal realities, points to missions to destinations as diverse as the icy wastes beyond Pluto and Venusâs hellish surface. In addition to enhancing our knowledge of the solar system, the suite of missions outlined in this booklet promises the possibility of revolutionizing our understanding of our origins and surroundings. Missions to extraterrestrial environments as familiar as the Moon or as exotic as the surface of a comet and Jupiterâs deep interior will not only increase our knowledge concerning our planetary neighbors but also help improve our understanding of our own planet and, perhaps, determine whether lifeâbe it human or other- wiseâis sustainable on other solar system bodies. The answers to profound questions are now within our grasp. Now that the goals are set, the challenge is to stay on track and bring to reality the space- craft missions the SSE Survey has outlined, and in doing so to write the next chapter in one of humanityâs greatest endeavors. Artistâs concept of an ice-penetrating probe deploying an autonomous submersible to explore a hypothetical aquatic environmentâpossibly an ice-covered lake in Antarctica, or an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. 28 New Frontiers in Solar System Exploration