In the next two weeks, NASA will be making two large funding commitments. The first commitment will deal with NASA’s strategic direction to Mars. The second commitment consists of three separate options to be determined by Andrew Weiler.
According to CBC News Weiler is a former associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate, protesting strongly against NASA’s planned budget cuts along with numerous other scientists. Instead of studying Mars, the second commitment may consist of Saturn's moon Titan, Jupiter's moon Europa, and nearby asteroids.
The first commitment will build upon what NASA's rover, Curiosity, began when it landed on Mars over a week ago with a surface mission and strategic direction to Mars. Currently, the landing of Curiosity has the full attention of the public, including President Barack Obama. "You made us all proud," he told the flight control team for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover when it landed. His call congratulated JPL Director Charles Elachi and the Mars Science Laboratory team who operated the rover which landed on Mars a week ago.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The colorful globe of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, passes in front of the planet and its rings in this true color snapshot from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
"What you've accomplished embodies the American spirit," the president said to NASA. "Our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to Mars."
Several missions have been attempted already by NASA and Russia but not with the greatest success. However, there are many scientists siding with Andrew Weiler, planning on a space exploration that goes beyond Mars.
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Europa, a moon of Jupiter, appears as a thick crescent in this enhanced-color image from NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003.
One of the few galactic bodies that has a true atmosphere, besides Earth, is Titan --- the first option of NASA's second commitment. Its atmosphere includes gases, water and ice. The 1997 launching of the Cassini-Huygens orbiter allowed citizens of Earth to see that the moon's continents was made of ice and lakes of methane. One of NASA's second commitments could be the Titan Saturn Mission, to determine whether the lakes had any sign of life in them.
Another option of NASA's second commitment is Europa, the moon of Jupiter. Unlike other rocks in the solar system, the surface of Europa is covered with water, requiring a submarine more than a rover. The first mission by NASA would need to penetrate the thick sheet of ice on Europa's oceans.
The third option is being planned by a large number of scientists and businesses such as the Planetary Resources, wishing to see the next major surface space expedition go to an asteroid for mining and financial gain. Currently, "Planetary Resources is in the process of developing a spacecraft that will get to an asteroid's surface and back. Only two spaceships have ever landed on an asteroid."
In 10 years, this company would like to have a small spacecraft on the surface of an asteroid scooping up soil into an onboard processor. The processor would then extract water and refine the precious metals on the surface and concentrate these metals.