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Solar System Exploration
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October 2010 Column
Columnist: Dr. James Green

October 2010 Column
19 October 2010

In September, NASA transferred management of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from the Agency's Exploration Systems Management Directorate to the Science Mission Directorate's Planetary Science Division. This historic transition makes it possible for the two directorates to use the same spacecraft and instruments, allowing NASA to mine their full value, greatly enhancing the Agency's return on investment.

Although the move represents the first time NASA's exploration and science directorates have wielded the same spacecraft and instruments to accomplish their respective goals, in a sense this is nothing new. NASA exploration and science have gone side by side throughout the Agency's history.

Some of you may remember seeing a picture of Wernher von Braun hoisting America's first orbiting satellite - Explorer I - in the air. At von Braun's side stands James Van Allen, whose experiment aboard the satellite led to the discovery of the radiation belts, now called the Van Allen belts, encircling the Earth. Exploration and science - side by side.

A few years later, the Apollo program led to man's footsteps on the moon. But it also enabled us to retrieve a bounty of scientific data from the lunar surface. And the Apollo program made possible Skylab, our first space station, leading to many valuable scientific discoveries. Exploration and science - side by side.

These are just a few examples of how we can harvest the most fruits from our spacecraft by sharing them among entities that may leverage them in slightly different but complementary, and extremely worthy, ways.

From the beginning, LRO data has been intended to fuel both ESMD's lunar exploration and SMD's planetary scientific discoveries. The payload includes instruments with considerable heritage from previous scientific missions. During LRO's prolific first phase, just completed, those instruments collected a deluge of science data in support of exploration goals, and now their observations will be re-prioritized to support science goals. In some cases the goals overlap; in all cases the science data will continue to flood in, ultimately satisfying the needs of both directorates. And ultimately benefiting humankind.

The more ways we use our spacecraft and instruments, the more we'll learn about our solar system and the universe. NASA's exploration and science have complemented one another throughout the Agency's history, and LRO continues the tradition.


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About: Dr. James Green
Photo of Dr. James Green
Dr. Green is the Director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters. He views his job as the keeper of NASA's planetary program and the top advocate for that program to flourish and grow.
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