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Robotic Precursor Prospects: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

23 Jun 2012, 01:41 UTC
Robotic Precursor Prospects: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
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As most readers are surely aware, NASA's effort to return to the Moon in recent years included the robotic precursor missions Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS. These modern robotic pathfinders for HSF succeeded, but the costly Ares rockets and Orion capsule forced the elimination of the longer-term line of robotic precursor missions that was such a crucial part of the Vision for Space Exploration. NASA's proposed FY2011 change in direction called for the revival of the robotic precursor line, but this time it would scout multiple destinations, such as the Moon, NEOs, Mars, and the Martian moons, for resources and hazards to astronauts, as well as to demonstrate technologies like ISRU at those destinations. In the compromise between the Administration and Congress that allowed NASA to start the commercial crew program and to restore some technology development funding lost during the Constellation years while forcing the agency to develop the SLS and MPCV, the robotic precursor mission line was first scaled back considerably, and then lost altogether. With the prospect of budget overruns on the big projects and general downward pressure on NASA's budget, it doesn't look easy to revive the robotic precursors.It is possible for NASA's Planetary Science program ...

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