The exploration of our solar system using Earth-based tools, robotic spacecraft, and, at times, people has been a human endeavor for hundreds of years. From Galileo’s first observations of Jupiter through an early telescope to the Galileo flight mission to Jupiter, solar system exploration has been a rich scientific field encompassing biology, chemistry, geology, physics, meteorology, and many other disciplines.
The solar system exploration community and its principal supporter, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), have worked together over the years to determine the direction and scientific rationale and goals for both a space-based and a ground-based program of exploration. They have then worked to develop a set of missions to achieve these goals.
In 1994, the National Research Council (NRC) through the Space Studies Board produced a 15-year strategy for solar system exploration, An Integrated Strategy for the Planetary Sciences: 1995-2010.1 Since that report was issued, a number of important developments and changes in circumstances for the program necessitated a new strategy. Adopting the model of decadal surveys used successfully by the astronomy and astrophysics community since the 1960s, NASA requested a decadal survey encompassing all of the elements of solar system exploration, including the major scientific questions to be addressed and recommendations for flight missions and ground-based activities. The result of this effort was the 2003 report New Frontiers in the Solar System, generally referred to as the solar system exploration decadal survey.2 The committee notes that whereas the astronomy and astrophysics community has a long and successful history of decadal surveys, the solar system exploration community is still relatively new to this process and not all community members fully recognize or acknowledge the importance of the decadal survey. The committee stresses that the solar system decadal survey is the primary process for establishing scientific priorities for the exploration of the solar system. Only the decadal survey process involves broad-scale community involvement and input and a careful vetting process.
Five years into the decade covered by the survey (2003-2013) and in preparation for the next survey effort, Congress asked NASA to engage the community through the NRC’s Space Studies Board in assessing progress toward the scientific and mission goals recommended in the decadal survey and in a similar NRC report on the