Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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NASA Town Hall: The Next Ten Years

March 31, 2011: 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Kaufmann Theater at the American Museum of Natural History

NASA's next ten years. What should they do?

This event will be a panel discussion and Q&A NASA's next ten years. The Decadal Survey has been completed, and there are a number of items in the plan which still have not been hammered out. NASA is asking us to come take a sneak peek at what missions are in the hopper. Which ones made it to the final cut. So NASA is asking for feedback from the public on the final set. It's the "American Idol" of Solar System exploration. You can even bring signs cheering on your favorite project. My pet favorite is a mission to Uranus. Come see the others!


Planetary Science: New Worlds, New Discoveries
A Discussion of Current and Future Missions

March 31, 2011 | 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Kaufmann Theater, first floor
Enter at 77th Street

Join us for a NASA Town Hall to discuss the conclusions of the new Planetary Science Decadal Survey. The PSDS identifies key science goals, technologies, and priorities for 2013-2022 missions of discovery. Denton Ebel, associate curator in the Museum's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, will moderate a discussion with Jim Adams, Deputy Director, Planetary Science, NASA, and Ralph McNutt, Jr., preeeminent MESSENGER scientist and Decadal Committee member A Q&A session will follow.

Article Written for the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

NASA's New Directions

Jason Kendall

On March 31, the American Museum of Natural History hosted a town hall meting about NASA's Decadal Survey of Planetary Sciences. This important document is a result of about 200 scientists all contributing to what they thought NASA should do over the next ten years. Hosting the discussion was Dr. Denton Ebel, the Curator-In-Charge of the Department of Earth and Planet Sciences at AMNH. Dr. Ebel introduced Dr. Jim Adams, Deputy Director, Planetary Science, NASA, and Dr. Ralph McNutt, Jr., preeminent MESSENGER scientist and Decadal Committee member.

Dr. Adams started the evening with a brief overview of previous planetary science missions. He discussed the successful unmanned exploratory missions, including Mariner 10 to Mercury, Magellan to Venus, the numerous and successful Mars missions beginning with Viking and going through the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Also in this brief discussion were the accomplishments of the Galileo probe to Jupiter and the ongoing success of the Cassini mission to Saturn. Also discussed were the current missions of Dawn, New Horizons, Juno, MESSENGER, StarDust NeXT and EPOXI, each with their amazing discoveries, and their requisite advances in technology. Dr. Adams finished also by saying that every mission goes through changes from when it is put on the drawing board to final launch. One mission that was subjected to significant downscaling and change that sent back astonishing discoveries was the Voyager Missions. These missions had to be perfectly timed, but had budget issues as well as redesign issues, however, it's common knowledge that much of the data every obtained about all the outer planets prior to the Hubble era was by the Voyagers' Grand Tour. And now, over 30 years later they continue into their Interstellar Mission, exploring the heliopause. All of these missions took place under the watchful eye of budgetary management, and all had to be supported by the community at large.

Dr. Ralph McNutt then took the stage, and spoke at length about the budgetary constraints that dictate all NASA projects. Aiming first at doing science, NASA is required by law to do a Decadal Survey to present to Congress to demonstrate that the Agency has gathered the consensus of the scientific community on what the tax dollars should be spent. This budget must answer to many masters. It must continue current operations, invest in new technologies, and must pay for leading-edge missions worthy of the nation's fiscal support. McNutt discussed three different types of missions that fall under the purview of the survey. First, there are the small missions, the so-called Discovery Class missions,, which due to their small size and opportunistic nature aren't part of the Decadal Survey, but nonetheless are a significant portion of the Planetary Sciences budget. The survey recommends continuing funding for these missions with a cost cap of $500 million per mission. The Discovery missions included Mars Pathfinder, which demonstrated how to get to Mars in an inexpensive and meaningful way; Stardust, which collected a sample from a comet, then went on visit another; MESSENGER, the first spacecraft to visit Mercury in more than 30 years; and Kepler, which is revolutionizing our knowledge of exoplanet systems. The Decadal Survey's next major recommendations were for the New Frontiers Missions, or "medium-sized" missions. Final proposals include: a Comet Surface Sample Return, a Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return, a Saturn Probe, a Trojan Tour and Rendezvous, a Venus In Situ Explorer, an Io Observer and a Lunar Geophysical Network. The Decadal Survey recommends that two of these missions be carried out between 2013 and 2025.

Finally, great Flagship Missions were discussed. These pose the greatest expense and the greatest challenges, to reap the greatest rewards. The highest priority was given to a Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C) to find and return scientifically useful Mars samples back to Earth. The next highest priority is a Jupiter Europa Orbiter, and the third highest priority is a Uranus Orbiter and Probe. Only one of these flagship missions is recommended to be flown in 2013-2022. All of them having been deemed excellent science goals. But the devil is in the details, and Dr. McNutt spoke extensively about the tradeoffs given numerous funding constraints. Dr. NcNutt also emphasized the need for domestic plutonium to be developed again. All plutonium is currently coming from Russia, and only a few tens of kilograms are left on Earth. Finally, the budget battles in Congress and the steady decline in space funding over the last 30 years was discussed. All of the recommendations come in with a cost cap of under $20 billion for all missions over the next ten years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the Apollo missions were about $300 billion. A manned Mars mission would be nearly a trillion dollars to accomplish, so manned interplanetary missions are not on the table. All of the speakers exhorted all attendees to read the Survey and support the findings of the 200 scientists who came together to try to see what can be done with a slowly shrinking budget, and to try to help get that budget raised through citizen support.

The Decadal Survey, including all white papers and proposed missions, is online at http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/2013decadal/

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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