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Lunar missions, Cassini airbrushed from NASA 2013 highlights reel

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NASA has followed the custom of looking back at the now completed year of 2013 by releasing what it calls a “highlights reel” of what it regards as its major accomplishments for the previous year. It lists a great many missions, familiar like the Mars Curiosity rover, and obscure, like the TDRS-K. Conspicuous by their absent are not only three lunar missions that are ongoing, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the LADEE, and Artemis, as well as the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn.

NASA’s attitude toward lunar exploration has been somewhat ambiguous, at best. On the one hand the space agency engaged in a little bit of chest thumping concerning its lunar missions in reaction to the Chinese Chang’e 3 lunar landing. On the other hand not one of the three missions made the cut for the list of NASA accomplishments for 2013. This seems to be a reflection of President Obama’s explicit rejection of any NASA led lunar exploration in the wake of the cancellation of the Constellation program. Each of the three missions was approved by the Bush administration. The Obama administration has not approved of any further lunar expeditions.

The exclusion of the Cassini probe, a joint mission with the European Space Agency, is even more curious. Cassini continues to return spectacular images and data from Saturn and her moons. The exclusion may be a way to try to tamp down on any effort any further missions to the Outer Planets, particularly Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and Titan, a moon of Saturn.

Addendum: NASA's Messenger, currently orbiting the planet Mercury, was also excluded.



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