NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
April 23, 1997


In the first step of a two-step process, NASA has selected five proposals for detailed study as candidates for the next missions in the Agency's Discovery Program of lower-cost, highly focused scientific spacecraft.

The proposals selected for further study would send spacecraft to study Mercury, the atmosphere of Venus, the moons of Mars, comets and the solar wind.

Following the feasibility studies, which are due for submission by August 15, NASA intends to select one or two of the investigations in October for full development as the next Discovery Program flights.

"This excellent and innovative set of proposals really demonstrates the maturing nature of the Discovery Program," said Dr. Wesley Huntress, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. "The selected concepts include a mission to a planet, Mercury, that we have not visited with a spacecraft in more than two decades, interesting complements to our currently planned cometary and Mars robotic missions, and the first attempt to gather a sample of particles from the Sun and bring them back to Earth."

The five selected proposals were judged to have the best science value among 34 proposals submitted to NASA in December 1996 in response to the Discovery Announcement of Opportunity (AO) issued on Sept. 20, 1996. Each now will receive $350,000 to conduct a four-month implementation feasibility study focused on cost, management and technical plans, including small business involvement and educational outreach. As stated in the AO, the initial cost estimates will be allowed to grow by a maximum of 20 percent in the detailed final proposals.

The selected proposals are:

  • Aladdin, a mission to gather samples of the small Martian moons Phobos and Deimos by firing four projectiles into the moons' surface and gathering the ejecta during slow flybys, and then return the samples to Earth for detailed study. Aladdin would be led by Dr. Carle Pieters of Brown University, Providence, RI, at a total cost to NASA, including launch vehicle and operations, of $244 million.

  • The Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), a mission to take images and comparative spectral maps of at least three comet nuclei and analyze the dust flowing from them. CONTOUR would be led by Dr. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, at a total cost of $135 million.

  • Genesis, a mission to collect a sample of the solar wind and return it to Earth for detailed analysis. One of the finalists in the fourth round of Discovery program selections under the name Seuss-Urey, Genesis would be led by Dr. Donald Burnett from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, at a total cost of $218 million.

  • The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging mission, or Messenger, an orbiter spacecraft carrying seven instruments to image and study the closest planet to the Sun. Messenger would be led by Dr. Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution, Washington, DC, at a total cost of $257 million.

  • The Venus Environmental Satellite (VESAT), an orbiter spacecraft to study the atmospheric chemistry and meteorology of Earth's cloud-covered neighbor using an imager, near- infrared spectrograph, a temperature mapper and an X-band radar. VESAT would be led by Dr. Kevin Baines of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, at a total cost of $173 million.

    The investigations proposed in response to this announcement (AO-96-OSS-02) were required to respond to the goals and objectives of the Office of Space Science's Solar System Exploration theme or the search for extrasolar planetary systems element of the Astronomical Search for Origins and Planetary Systems theme. The spacecraft must be ready for launch no later than Sept. 30, 2002, and meet the Discovery Program's development cost (launch plus 30 days) cap of $183 million in Fiscal 1997 dollars over 36 months.

    The concepts under study will follow four previously selected NASA Discovery missions. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft was launched in Feb. 1996 on its way to orbit the asteroid Eros in 1999. The Mars Pathfinder lander, carrying a small robotic rover named Sojourner, is due to land on the surface of Mars on July 4. The Lunar Prospector orbiter mission to map the Moon's composition and gravity field, scheduled for launch in September, and the Stardust mission to gather dust from Comet Wild-2 in 2004, currently are under development.

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