A ten-page report just submitted to Congress outlines a new strategy for NASA planetary programs emphasizing small missions. If implemented, this plan would represent a shift away from large “flagship” missions that have characterized many programs of NASA's Solar System Exploration Division.
There are a number of reasons for this shift in strategy. The current NASA appropriations bill requires “a plan to stimulate and develop small planetary or other space science projects, emphasizing those which could be accomplished by the academic or research communities.” Budgetary realities make it more difficult to fly large missions. There is also concern about a “significant gap” in data from planetary missions between 1998 and 2004.