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April 19, 1996
For Immediate Release

Low-Cost Planetary Missions Conference Helps Solidify
International Planetary Research Community

How do we continue to do exciting science that is publicly engaging while significantly reducing the cost of individual missions," Dr. Edward C. Stone, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, asked last night in an address to researchers who have been challenged to do just that.

The group was part of a four-day International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) conference on low-cost planetary missions held at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., that had been meeting since April 16-a conference for which Dr. Stone also served as Co-Chairman. The conference attracted more than 250 researchers from 10 countries who exchanged information about current and future missions and discussed the impact of worldwide economic realities on planetary exploration in what were sometimes contentious, thought-provoking discussions. Topics discussed included the technology, management, instrumentation, and operation of missions and the political and philosophical aspects of exploring the solar system.

"Two years ago [at the first international low-cost planetary mission conference] we were discussing if low-cost planetary missions were possible, and now we are discussing actual successes," says Dr. Stamatios M. Krimigis, Conference Co-Chairman and Head of the APL Space Department, referring to, among other missions, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft recently built and launched by the Laboratory as the first in NASA's Discovery Series. "The last conference dealt with ideas on how to produce planetary missions for less," he says. "This conference was filled with the richness of experience since many of the ideas have been put into practice."

Dr. Arnoldo Valenzuela, Conference Co-Chairman, says, "This conference has brought together ideas and experiences from many countries and has added to the growth and strength of the entire planetary community. We have been able to share different methods of technology development and management and learn, among other things, about the political environment within which researchers from other countries must operate. Such knowledge will be tremendously helpful with missions that bring together several countries." More international missions, especially low-cost Discovery Program-type missions, will make a stronger planetary exploration community worldwide, Dr. Valenzuela says.

Seventy-eight oral presentations and 21 poster papers were presented during the IAA conference. Participants included scientists, managers, and engineers in every area of mission planning and spacecraft development and launch. "By bringing together such a wide range of expertise we all gain a much better understanding of mission development," Dr. Valenzuela says.

"[Planetary exploration] isn't business as usual ," said Dr. Bruce C. Murray of the California Institute of Technology in his keynote address to the conference. "Society manifests its priorities in available funds, and those are going down and we have to worry about not just being cheaper but being more productive. Increased productivity means serious change," he said, "change such as moving program responsibility and accountability for NASA missions to a much lower level."

Dr. Murray said that industry must also concentrate on practical technological advances. "The focus of advanced technology development should not be on gadgets and technological advances per se but on those things that really empower and increase the productivity of the individuals doing the work and the people that use the system."

Conference presentations included an overview of current and proposed European, Japanese, Russian, and NASA programs with in-depth discussions on the NEAR spacecraft, launched Feb. 17, 1996, to study the asteroid Eros; Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor, both scheduled for launch in December 1996; the Moon Orbiting Observatory (MORO) to map lunar topography, mineralogy, geochemistry, and gravity; the Lunar-A mission, which will send penetrators to the lunar surface in 1997 to investigate the origin and evolution of the moon; MUSES-C, a mission that will return samples from the near-Earth asteroid Nereus; and the Kuiper Express mission to study planets and other objects along the Kuiper Belt.

Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, Honorary Chairman for the conference, said in a message to the conference attendees, "The only conceivable way in which a continuing pace of pioneering planetary missions can be maintained is by making the spacecraft small, light, and elegant--while at the same time sacrificing little in the way of scientific productivity...The continuing health of planetary exploration--for the near future at least--clearly depends on further miniaturization of spacecraft and scientific instruments. That is why conferences such as this are so important."

The IAA plans to hold its third International Low-Cost Planetary Mission Conference in 1998 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

IAA Conference cosponsors included:

Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES)
Deutsche Agentur Für Raumfahrtangelgenheiten (DARA)
European Space Agency (ESA)
Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
The Planetary Society
Space Research Institute (IKI)

For more information contact:

For more information, contact APL Public Information Officer Helen Worth; phone: 240-228-5113 or 410-778-5113.