Potentially Pluto-bound



NASA has given the green light to a proposal to proceed with preliminary design studies for a mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The project, labeled “New Horizons: Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds,” could launch in 2006 and fly by Pluto before 2020.

But first, according to NASA, the project will need to pass a “confirmation review” of mission risks, including regulatory approval for its nuclear power source, and win sufficient funds from Congress. The mission received $30 million in Congressional funding for fiscal year 2002 for final design work and for contracting the launch vehicle, but the White House budget plan currently does not include mission funding for subsequent years.