A future joint U.S.-Russian “Fire and Ice” mission to the Sun and Pluto is looking “very interesting and very feasible,” according to a joint technical review team on space science that met last week at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Although a concrete plan does not exist, the joint team is evaluating the possibility of sending two probes to explore the Sun and another two probes to fly by Pluto. As in the Ulysses mission to the Sun's poles, Jupiter would be used as a gravitational slingshot to position the probes into appropriate orbits. Each country would develop and monitor one craft in each pair of missions, but reigning technologies would be shared. For instance, the probes would be launched at the same time with the Russian proton rocket, according to Miriam Forman, a NASA cosmic and heliospheric scientist.