Chasing New Horizons, by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. Picador (2018), 320 pp.
Early on in Alan Stern and David Grinspoon’s Chasing New Horizons, a basic tension within the space community reveals itself. It’s one that would haunt the prospect of a mission to Pluto throughout its lengthy gestation, repeatedly slowing and sometimes stopping the mission in its tracks. The authors call it a ‘basic disconnect’ between how NASA makes decisions on exploration and how the public tends to see the result.
‘To boldly go where no one has gone before’ is an ideal, but it runs up against scientific reality:
…the committees that assess and rank robotic-mission priorities within NASA’s limited available funding are not chartered with seeking the coolest missions to find uncharted places. Rather, they want to know exactly what science is going to be done, what specific high-priority scientific questions are going to be answered, and the gritty details of how each possible mission can advance the field. So, even if the scientific community knows they really do want to go somewhere for the sheer joy and wonder of exploration, the challenge is to define a scientific rationale so compelling that it passes scientific ...