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NASA picks two Pluto mission proposals for further study
Posted: Thu, Jun 7, 2001, 12:59 AM ET (0459 GMT)
Pluto-Kuiper Express spacecraft illustration NASA announced Wednesday it had selected for further study two proposals for a spacecraft mission to the planet Pluto even though there is currently no funds for such a mission. The two proposals, named Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer (POSSE) and New Horizons, were chosen from five submitted earlier this year as part of an effort to choose an alternative to NASA's Pluto/Kuiper Express mission, which was effectively killed last year. The winning teams will each get $450,000 to conduct a three-month concept study; NASA will then determine if either mission is feasible. Even if NASA chooses a mission for development, there is no money in the current fiscal year 2002 budget proposal for a Pluto mission, although groups such as The Planetary Society are lobbying Congress to add funding for such a mission. Planetary scientists have pointed out that it is critical to mount a mission to Pluto in the next two decades in order to observe the planet's tenuous atmosphere, which may freeze out as the planet moves farther from the Sun in its elliptical, 248-year orbit.
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