Planetary Science Decadal Survey: Addressing Priority Science by Exploring Mars, Icy Giants, and Exoplanets

The representation ratio for the demographics surveyed in the 2011 and 2020 planetary science workforce surveys for non-student (NSR) and student researchers (NSR). The ratio is relative to the national civilian labor force (NCLF) for the same year. Credit: Rivera-Valentín et al., 2021.

The once-in-a-decade report, Origins, Worlds, and Life, A Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023-2032, known as “the decadal survey,” was released last week after more than two years of work by over 100 planetary science experts. The decadal survey outlines the most important questions in planetary science and the missions that are required to address them. It identifies 12 priority questions about our solar system organized into three major themes: Origins, Worlds and Processes, and Life and Habitability. It also identifies the study of exoplanets as a cross-cutting theme, which addresses all the basic science questions and therefore can help us understand our own solar system.

The decadal survey recommends an exploration program to address these science questions, including continued support for missions already in operation or development. It gives high priority to completing the Mars Sample Return as well as exploration of icy worlds, with the highest priority flagship mission to be a Uranus orbiter and probe, followed by an Enceladus orbiter and lander. The decadal also recommends that basic research and development funding be increased to support fundamental research needed to prepare for and increase the return from missions. 

A new addition to this decadal survey is a section examining the “state of the profession,” including issues of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility (DEIA), which emphasizes that a broad level of participation is needed to produce the highest quality science. Although there has been significant progress in increasing the entry and prominence of women in the field, work is still needed to improve representation by ethnicity. The importance of these issues is illustrated by an ongoing (April 25-29) virtual workshop in Advancing IDEA in Planetary Science.

The highly anticipated 780-page decadal survey will provide much food for thought, discussion, and new directions in the scientific community. READ MORE