Friday, October 23, 2009

Decadal Survey Democracy in Action

The Decadal Survey in progress is going to great lengths to ensure that the entire planetary science is included in setting priorities for the next decade. It has set up a number of panels to work out priorities for different subsets of targets. The Small Bodies panel has set up a web page where community members can vote on priorities.

The poll begins by asking members to rank possible scientific priorities such as, "Relating the history and processes of our solar system with other solar systems," and "Determining early conditions in the solar system (e.g., compositional gradient, early formation history)."

Two options are presented for a Flagship mission, "Cryogenic Comet Nucleus Sample Return," and other (with a place to specify one's alternative).

Ten options are presented for a New Frontier's mission: "Sample return from a volatile-rich NEO [Near Earth Object] not represented in our meteorite collection, Multiple main belt asteroid rendezvous, Phobos/Deimos sample return, Flyby of unexplored ice dwarf [in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune] (e.g., Haumea), Comet surface sample return, Mega-multiple flybys of main belt asteroids, Multiple target flyby of satellite (e.g., Triton) and small TNO [Trans-Neptune Object], Main-belt asteroid sample return, Jupiter Trojan rendezvous, and other."

The survey has space to answer the question, "What are the most important science goals that can be addressed by Discovery-class missions?" The survey goes on to ask about priorities for research facilities and technology development."

The survey closes by asking what seems to me to be the key question of the survey, "Balancing priorities - In the event of negative budget pressure on the planetary budget, what is the priority for preserving program funding?" Options are "Technology development programs, Discovery class missions, Flagship class missions, Research and Data Analysis programs, New Frontier class missions, and Other."

Results will be made public in a future Small Bodies panel meeting.

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