Everybody wins. NASA has somehow scraped enough money together to extend seven ongoing planetary science missions, based on a review of those missions by senior scientists, NASA officials revealed today at a meeting of a planetary science advisory committee.
However, the review panel was critical of the Mars rover Curiosity—the newest and the second most expensive of the seven missions—and gave it the worst grade of the bunch. The panel was disappointed that the rover team was planning to drill and analyze just eight more samples during its extended mission. “The panel essentially said, ‘Drive less and do more science,’ ” says Bill Knopf, the lead program executive for planetary mission operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Based on the review panel’s findings, NASA has asked the Curiosity team to revise its science plan.
NASA routinely reviews ongoing missions in all its divisions to assess their scientific effectiveness. Earlier this year, when the review process began, there were fears that two long-standing missions—the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Mars rover Opportunity—were at risk of being shut down. But everyone appears to have escaped the knife.