Program Office Overview

In 2014, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) formed the Planetary Missions Program Office to consolidate management of missions in the Discovery, New Frontiers and Solar System Exploration Programs into a single management structure. The purpose was to streamline documentation and to ensure that the successful management practices of competitively selected Discovery and New Frontiers missions are applied to all NASA planetary missions. The program office resides at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Program Office is responsible for ensuring that the missions adhere to committed cost, schedule, performance, reliability, and safety requirements consistent with policies, strategies, requirements, and funding established by SMD.

The three programs are comprised of independent space science missions that share a common management structure.

The programs include three types of projects:

  • Announcement of Opportunity (AO)-Selected Missions – Principal Investigator (PI)-led missions that are complete, self-standing investigations competed through an AO.
  • Directed Missions – Complete, self-standing investigations that are assigned directly to a NASA center or other implementing organization by SMD. Projects assigned directly to a center are typically led by a Project Manager.
  • Missions of Opportunity (MO) – Historically PI-led, these projects are an element  (instrument or other hardware contribution) of another mission, often led by a foreign space agency. MOs are conducted on a no-exchange-of-funds basis with the organization sponsoring the full mission. NASA typically solicits proposals for MOs through the Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity Notice (SALMON) AO process.

NASA Science Strategy NASA’s science strategy is defined in a number of documents. The strategic objective in planetary science is to figure out the content, origin, and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere. This goal is pursued by seeking answers to the following fundamental science questions that guide NASA’s exploration of the solar system:

  • How did our solar system form and evolve?
  • Is there life beyond Earth?
  • What are the hazards to life on Earth?

The Planetary Science Division has translated these important questions into science goals that guide the focus of the division’s science and research activities.