Lessons Learned From the Clementine Mission


Thirty years after Ranger 7's first close-up photography of the Moon and 25 years after the Apollo 11 astronauts' first steps, the compact Clementine satellite returned to lunar orbit. Whereas Apollo remains the most ambitious and expensive U.S. space endeavor, Clementine is an archetype of the "smaller-faster-cheaper" approach dictated by today's fiscal realities.

Clementine was the product of innovative technical and management approaches in the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization of the Department of Defense. Its primary goal was to demonstrate that advanced capabilities could be achieved at relatively low cost; the scientific objectives were secondary.

In this study, the Space Studies Board's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) considers some lessons to be learned from Clementine about reaping the most science possible from a technology-focused space mission and about the relevance of this experience to future NASA satellites that leave low Earth orbit. Not surprisingly, many of the findings stated here echo a recent Space Studies Board report assessing changes in the Explorer program of Earth-orbiting satellites.1 Both studies focus on the need for crisp management structures with adequate authority and responsibility to ensure that projects will be executed quickly—since there are natural limits on how quickly project money can be effectively spent, "faster" is almost synonymous with "cheaper."

This report complements COMPLEX's earlier examination of the role of small missions in solar system research.2 Taken together, these studies are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of addressing some high-priority solar system exploration with spacecraft of modest cost. Whatever else it accomplished, Clementine's success in mapping the Moon established an important precedent for the conduct of space research.

Claude R. Canizares, Chair
Space Studies Board

1Space Studies Board, National Research Council, Assessment of Recent Changes in the Explorer Program, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1996.

2Space Studies Board, National Research Council, The Role of Small Missions in Planetary and Lunar Exploration, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.


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