SA Perspectives: Last Chance for the Last Planet; May 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
Scientists joke that it can take longer for a space mission to escape from Washington, D.C., than to cross the solar system: the harshness of outer space is nothing compared with the rigors of securing administrative, presidential and congressional approval. Never has this been truer than for a mission to Pluto. In one form or another, a space probe to the outermost planet--the only major unvisited world in the solar system--has been traveling for more than a decade and still has yet to clear the Beltway. Unless Congress acts this summer, the mission will crash-land about five billion kilometers short of its goal.
The question before Congress is whether to go along with a Bush administration decision to abort the Pluto project altogether. The president's budget for fiscal year 2003 excludes it. A similar situation arose last year, when the administration left Pluto out of the budget and Congress put it in.