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NASA's Bolden changes his mind on 'flagship' planetary missions

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What a difference that less than a week makes. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was previously reported as stating to the planetary science community that so-called “flagship missions,” which is to say planetary science missions costing more than $1 billion, were off the table indefinitely because of the space agency’s lean budget situation. Now, according to a December 10, 2013 statement, Bolden seems to have changed his mind.

"NASA remains committed to planning, launching and operating flagship missions that meet the challenging objectives of our science, technology and aeronautics communities as identified through decadal surveys, advisory groups, the Administration and Congress. We are dedicated to pursuing the most cost-effective ways to accomplish this goal in order to provide balance with an increased cadence of missions that vary in size, destination and complexity."

The original statement about flagship missions, of which Mars Curiosity and the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn are examples, had caused a fire storm in the planetary science community. Budget cuts in basic research grants for 2014 have also proven to be an irritant to scientists who plan and operate NASA’s robotic space probes.

Scientists are mulling new candidates for large scale planetary missions costing more than $1 billion, including expeditions to Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and Titan and Enceladus, moons of Saturn.

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