Decadal Survey Prioritization of Past and Potential Discoveries (preliminary)

Status Report From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Friday, February 8, 2002


The final phase of the decadal study is upon us. More than 350 planetary scientists have submitted more than 20 white papers detailing issues and priorities within the various subdisciplines comprising solar system exploration. The NRC Steering Group must ultimately provide an overarching list of prioritized issues and recommendations for the next decade.

Your input on this final prioritization is needed.

At the recent DPS conference, an open forum was held during NASA Night to begin receiving your input. On the panel was Mike Belton (Chair of the NRC Steering Committee), Carle' Pieters (Chair, NRC Inner Planets DP), Reta Beebe (Chair, NRC Giant Planets DP), Robert Pappalardo (COMPLEX, and Vice-Chair NRC Large Satellites DP), and Michael A'Hearn (Vice-Chair, NRC Primitive Bodies DP). Joining them was Colleen Hartman (Director of NASA's Solar System Exploration Division), and Wes Huntress (DPS Chair, who also sits on the NRC Steering Group). Over the course of the forum, 22 DPS members (of about 200 present) volunteered their opinions, addressing two questions:

(1) What are the three most significant discoveries of the past decade? [SEE TABLE 1]

(2) What are the three most important investigations for the coming decade? [SEE TABLE 2]

The Planetary Community Decadal Website has now been modified to accept your input on these issues. Go to

The planetary community has been recently criticized for being fractious by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Whether this telegraphs an intention by OMB to go after portions of the NASA planetary exploration budget in FY2003 is a matter for some concern. Our decadal activity is a direct challenge to such criticism. It is important that as many of you as possible continue to participate in this process. By doing so, you are shaping the consensus that will define and help protect solar system exploration for the next decade.

Mark V. Sykes,
DPS Past Chair

Editor's note: the following is what resulted from this DPS survey. The results are presented in two tables - Table 1 lists the respondent's collated and ranked results for "The most important investigations for the next decade". Table 2 shows a similar ranking of responses for "The most important discoveries of the past decade."


  TABLE 1: The most important investigations for the next decade:  
1 Exploration of Pluto and KBOs 18
2 Physical characterization of asteroids and comets including KBOs 15
3 Rendezvous, lander, & sample return missions to Mars, asteroids and comets 14
4 Discovery and investigations of other planetary systems 13
5 Continued exploration of Mars and its satellites. Emphasis on life connections. 11
6 Broad SSE program and robust support of ground-based studies 8
  Continued exploration of Europa 8
7 Begin orbiter missions to Uranus, Neptune & Titan 5
8 Return to Jupiter 4
SETI and the search for extraterrestrial life 4
Increased support to theoretical investigations including celestial dynamics 4
Begin human exploration of the solar system: Human outposts in space, men on Mars 4
9 Renew SSE infrastructure including ground-based facilities 2
Investigate circumstellar disks 2
Support for Cassini 2
Promote synoptic investigations of planetary atmospheres 2
Further investigation of Venus tectonics and atmosphere/surface interactions 2
Improved measurements of cosmogenic materials and investigation of interstellar dust in the solar system 2
10 Exploration of polar deposits on the Moon and Mercury 1
Find ways to increase access to large ground-based telescopes 1
Develop improved techniques for deep space exploration 1
Promote a broad robust SSE program 1
Search for yet undiscovered members of the solar system 1
Explore the large asteroids Ceres and Vesta 1
Investigate life in extreme environments 1
Detailed characterization of Mercury 1
Support comparative planetology 1
Investigate anthropogenic changes on the earth 1
Investigate climate change in the solar system 1
Why are we here? 1
Investigate the sun-planet interaction 1


  TABLE 2: DPS sponsored "discoveries and investigations" survey  
  The most important discoveries of the past decade: Citations
1 The discovery of other planetary systems and that they proliferate in the galaxy 35
2 The discovery of the Kuiper Belt and the realization of its implications for evolution of solar system 23
The findings of Galileo Mission, its probe, and the evidence for sub-surface water on Europa and the other Galilean satellites 23
3 The discovery of widespread layering in the Martian surface and evidence for water related processes 8
4 Discovering that S-L 9 would impact Jupiter and witnessing the effects 7
ALH84001 and its implications for the possibility life on Mars 7
5 The explorations of NEAR and the low bulk density of asteroids 4
6 Acceptance of the discovery that impacts on the Earth have important biological significance 3
Magellan results and the discovery that Venus' surface had been resurfaced 3
Advances in celestial dynamics and the discovery that planetary migration may be important in the evolution of the solar system 3
Increased potential for finding evidence of life in extra terrestrial objects 3
The application of HST, GB telescope, radar, to small bodies and the discovery of binary asteroids 3
7 The discovery of cold trap deposits on the Moon and Mercury 2
Crustal magnetism on Mars 2
Discovery of insterstellar dust in the solar system and the discovery of pre-solar grains in meteorites. 2
8 Water is everywhere in the solar system 1
The large numbers of NEAs that have been discovered 1
Evidence of climate change on the Earth 1
Successful ground-based spectroscopy of the nightside of Venus 1
X-rays from comets 1
Detection of HDO on Mars 1
Discovery of life in extreme envirnoments 1
Vast increases in computer power and the development of the internet 1
Unravelling of the exposure history of lunar and martian meteorites 1
The development of improved production rates for cosmogenic nuclides 1
The increased understanding of Jovian magnetospheric interactions and how a planetary pulsar works 1

// end //

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