Congress Downsizes the Solar System

   The US Congress today, in an effort to rectify the current sequestration budget cuts has made a dramatic announcement. In an effort to reduce the NASA budget, a resolution was passed today to downsize the solar system. According to an unnamed congressional staffer, House Republicans felt there has been “too much redundancy in the solar system” and that streamlining the 4.5 billion year old planetary system is long overdue. Such action would give NASA fewer places to go and this would allow the agency to carry out its space exploration goals within the funding profile that the House proposed earlier this summer.

   “Look, we have four terrestrial planets” said Congressman Rip U. Apart (R, OK), “and only one of them really works! So why not get rid of at least two of the others and clean up the neighborhood?” Most subcommittee members felt that while downsizing was definitely in the cards, eliminating both Mercury and Venus, or even Mars, was going too far. “We have too many international commitments to Mars.” said another politician. “So I think we should keep Mars and dump Venus and Mercury. It’s too hot to live on Venus, and liberal Democrats keep using it as an example of what climate change can do. So from a political and practical point of view, Venus has got to go.”

   Definitely at risk is the planet Mercury which lacks support because of its small size and poor visibility from Earth. “Who needs it?” asked Congressman Newt Onian (R, N.C.). “Have you ever seen it? I haven’t. So what good is it? We just don’t need useless planets. And speaking of useless planets, what about the asteroids? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. So I say we ought to get rid of the little boogers once and for all.”

   However, the downsizing recommendations do not stop with the terrestrial planets. The resolution also calls for a reduction in the number of gas giants which contain most of the planetary mass in the solar system. Most subcommittee members favor retaining Jupiter and Saturn, and eliminating Uranus and Neptune. “Jupiter employs the most molecules, and Saturn has those pretty little rings everyone likes.” said Rep. Con Mann (R, Fla.). “On the other hand, Uranus is a bore and its rings are dirty. And Neptune, for God’s sake, is just too far away.”

   The subcommittee was unanimous in its views towards Pluto which they deemed a moral misfit. “Now here’s a planet we can definitely do without.” continued Fornow. “Several years ago it was farthest from the sun (1979-1999), and now it’s not. It’s just too confusing. And now they tell me it’s really a Dwarf Planet. What the heck is going on here?”

   The resolution must now be presented to the entire House, where it is expected to pass easily since only a minority of Representatives have constituents on the affected planets. NASA Administrators have vowed to resist any further reductions to the solar system, saying that “NASA has expended considerable effort to make solar system exploration cheaper, faster, and better. Much of this work would be wasted if the solar system were downsized.”

   Critics say, however, that reducing the number of planets will not produce the expected savings to taxpayers. Textbooks, they note, would have to be revised to reflect the new arrangement, and facilities would need to be constructed to remove the planets themselves.

   April Fools!!

   
   
   

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Solar System Exploration @50

Cassini Mission Timeline

   This past August 27th marked 50 years of exploring the solar system by NASA. It was on that date in 1962 when the Mariner 2 Spacecraft was launched on a flyby mission of the planet Venus. To celebrate and acknowledge their achievements NASA is hosting a 2-day symposium in Arlington, VA on October 25-26. The symposium is open to the public with pre-registration required. Click here for more information about the symposium.

   Also celebrating an anniversary is the Cassini mission to Saturn. Launched on October 15th 1997 the Cassini spacecraft arrived at the Saturn system of ~63 moons in 2004 and has now been on duty for 15 years, although nearly half of that time was simply getting from our planet to Saturn. The mission is currently in its third phase or mission extension having started with the 4-year Cassini mission, followed by the 2-year Cassini Equinox Mission, and now the current Cassini Solstice Mission – scheduled to end around 2017.
   Among the accomplishments made by the Cassini mission include landing the Huygens probe on the moon Titan. According to a recent press release mission scientists have determined that the manner in which the probe landed suggests that the surface where the probe landed is soft, like “soft damp sand”.
   Click here to read the NASA press release.

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