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Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC             February 28, 1995
(Phone: 202/358-1753)

RELEASE:  95-19


A mission to study the Moon has been selected for funding as part of NASA's Discovery Program, an on-going Agency effort to foster the development of frequent, low- cost solar system exploration missions. Missions to study the Sun, Venus and a comet also have been selected for further detailed study under the Discovery effort.

The mission to the Moon, known as Lunar Prospector, was judged mature enough to proceed directly to full development and construction, following final technical definition. Scheduled for launch in June 1997, the $59 million project will map the chemical composition of the lunar surface and the Moon's global magnetic and gravity fields at a level of detail greater than that achieved by previous missions. The mission also should locate any significant quantities of water ice in shadowed craters near the lunar poles, a key issue for any future human exploration.

The other three Discovery missions will undergo detailed study for the next six to nine months, leading to a fall 1995 decision to pick one for development and flight. They are:

  • Stardust, which would fly through the extended coma of the active comet P/Wild 2, taking images and returning a sample of its cometary dust to Earth laboratories;

  • The Venus Multiprobe Mission, which would drop 16 small probes into the thick Venusian atmosphere to enable study of its unusual atmospheric circulation; and

  • Suess-Urey, which would collect samples of solar particle matter streaming outward from the Sun and return it to Earth for laboratory study.

"I am absolutely thrilled with the potential of these missions, and with the universally high quality of the 28 proposals submitted to us," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "The university and aerospace industry communities should be proud of their efforts, which represent a model of how to pursue scientifically first- rate space exploration using small, advanced spacecraft."

The Lunar Prospector will be built and launched on a Lockheed Launch Vehicle by Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., Sunnyvale, CA, under the direction of Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Binder of Lockheed. NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, will be responsible for one of the spacecraft's instruments and technical support.

The Suess-Urey team is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald Burnett of the California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA, with Martin Marietta Astronautics of Denver, CO, as the contractor. The Venus Multiprobe Mission team is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Richard Goody of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, with Hughes Space and Communications Group, El Segundo, CA, as the industry contractor. The Stardust team is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington in Seattle, with Martin Marietta as the contractor. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, will provide project management for these three missions.

"Discovery missions are far less expensive than any mission we have ever done in planetary exploration, yet they promise to deliver excellent science," said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress Jr., NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. "We've turned the old way of doing business upside down."

Formally started in NASA's FY 1994 budget, the Discovery program features small planetary exploration spacecraft with focused science goals that can be built in 36 months or less, for less than $150 million (FY92$), not including the cost of the launch vehicle. The program grew out of discussions and workshops that NASA has held with the science community.

Stardust would be launched on a Med-Lite in February 1999 for a total cost to NASA of $208 million. The Venus Multiprobe Mission would be launched on a Delta II launch vehicle in June 1999 for a total cost to NASA of $202 million. Suess-Urey would be launched on a NASA Med-Lite launch vehicle in August 1999 for a total mission cost to NASA of $214 million.

Twenty-eight formal proposals for the next Discovery missions were received by NASA in October 1994 in response to an August 1994 Announcement of Opportunity (see attached list).

Two missions are already under development in the Discovery program: the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, scheduled for launch in February 1996 to orbit around the asteroid Eros beginning in January 1999; and Mars Pathfinder, a small surface lander and rover that will be launched to Mars in November 1996 and land in July 1997.

NASA officials hope to release Announcements of Opportunity for new Discovery investigations on the average of every 18 months. The actual release dates depend on future approved NASA budgets and the size of previously selected missions.


TITLE/TYPE                                PROPOSER/ORGANIZATION

ASTER- Asteroid Earth Return              Fanale, Fraser/Univ. Hawaii

Comet Nucleus Penetrator                  Boynton, William/Univ. Arizona

Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR)              Veverka, Joseph/Cornell

Cometary Coma Chemical Composition (C4)   Carle, Glenn/ARC

Diana  (Lunar & Cometary Mission)         Russell, Christopher/UCLA

FRESIP-A mission to Find the Frequency    Borucki, William J./ARC
       of Earth-sized Inner Planets

Hermes Global Orbiter (Mercury Orbiter)   Nelson, Robert/JPL

Icy Moon Mission (Lunar Orbiter)          Murray, Bruce/Caltech

Interlune-One (Lunar Rovers)              Schmitt, Harrison/Univ. Wisc.
Jovian Integrated Synoptic Telescope      Feldman, Paul/JHU
     (IO Torus investigation)

Lunar Discovery Orbiter                   Boynton, William/Univ. Arizona

Lunar Prospector (Lunar Orbiter)          Binder, Alan B./Lockheed

Mainbelt Asteroid Exploration/Rendezvous  Veverka, Joseph/Cornell

Mars Aerial Platform (Atmospheric)        Greeley, Ronald/Arizona State

Mars Polar Pathfinder (Polar Lander)      Paige, David/UCLA

Mars Upper Atmosphere Dynamics,           Killeen, T/Univ. Michigan
     Energetics and Evolution

Mercury Polar Flyby                       Spudis, Paul/LPI

Near Earth Asteroid Returned Sample      Shoemaker, Carolyn/No. Arizona

Origin of Asteroids, Comets and Life     Nozette, Stewart/ Phillips Lab.
     on Earth

PELE: A Lunar Mission to Study           Taylor, G. Jeffrey/Univ. HI
     Planetary Volcanism 

Planetary Research Telescope             Broadfoot, A. Lyle/Univ. Arizona

Rendezvous with a Comet Nucleus (RECON)  Squyres, Steven/Cornell

Suess-Urey (Solar Wind Sample Return)    Burnett, Donald S./Caltech

Small Missions to Asteroids and Comets   Belton, Michael/Kitt Peak

Stardust  (Cometary/Interstellar         Brownlee, Donald E/Univ. WA
     Dust Return)

Venus Composition Probe (Atmospheric)    Esposito, Larry/Univ. Colorado

Venus Environmental Satellite            Baines, Kevin H./JPL

Venus Multi-Probe Mission (Atmospheric)  Goody, Richard/Harvard

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