Note: I'm not sure what happened to the fonts in this post. They look fine in the the blog site's editor and preview. I'm hoping that the simple edits I tried this morning have helped to solve the problem.
Aviation Week and Space Technology reports that the proposed Precursor Mission budget might be raided to pay for other manned spaceflight missions. (Read a description of the proposed program at http://futureplanets.blogspot.com/2010/05/robotic-precursor-missions.html.) In a subscription-only article, AWST reports that NASA is revising its FY11 manned spaceflight budget. A Congressional analysis has concluded that the Administration's new program, AWST reports, is as underfunded as the previous Administration's program. As a result, " Administrator Charles Bolden conceded [at a Congressional hearing] what many critics have been charging for months -- that the open-ended exploration-technology program in the new budget will be raided to pay for other work, including the space station crew return vehicle (CRV)... and the heavy-lift launcher."
AWST also published a short summary of the Precursor Program online: NASA to Ramp Up Robotic Exploration Missions
Editorial thought: The current vision for the Precursor Missions is ambitious. If the program budget is cut, I hope that sufficient funds remain to at least allow the investigation of one or more near Earth asteroids that might be a target of future manned spaceflight. This could both pave the way for a manned mission and provide useful science. There may also be opportunities to fund instruments on science missions. The scientific community has expressed concerns that the goals for the Mars Trace Gas Orbiter are ambitious given the budget; perhaps the Precursor Mission program could help fund instruments useful to both programs such as very high resolution cameras.
Two articles report that Japan is planning to make the moon a focus of its planetary exploration. It plans to to land a mobile research station in 2015. That will be followed up with the establishment of an unmanned research station near the lunar south pole by the end of the decade. Among other goals, the station will return samples to Earth. Total investment over the coming decade could be over $2B.
Editorial note: Several space agencies have sent orbiters to the moon over the last few years. China and India are also planning lunar missions this decade. If all three nations carry out their plans, then the moon will receive the kind of focused exploration that Mars did in the last decade.
AWST also published online its lead article from this week's issue on the Webb space telescope, and it is full of details on this mission and its development status: Webb Telescope to View Early Universe
Astrobiology Magazine has an article describing work that suggests that Europa's oceans may have oxygen levels similar to those of our own oceans. If this is true, then it makes Europa a more enticing target for exploration since high oxygen levels could enable higher forms of life (at least microbial life). See Europa's Churn leads to Oxygen Burn.
Space Review has an article on the chances that the Falcon 9 maiden launch will either fail or be only a partial success. Alan Stern reminds us that failure in early flights is common and what counts is the drive to continue to keep trying until the technology is proven. (This also suggests why NASA requires three successful flights of a launcher before committing a science mission.) You can see Alan's editorial here.