I am writing on the eve of the ExoPAG Meeting #4 to be held in Alexandria, VA, for the express purpose of creating the future of exoplanet science. Three weeks ago, at the very successful conference "Exploring Strange New Worlds" in Flagstaff, one of the participants exclaimed "Thanks to Kepler, we now have more exoplanets than we have exoplaneteers!". The time is right for NASA's next major thrust in astronomy to take shape as a "New Worlds" mission for the next decade, and ExEP, working with the science community through the ExoPAG, is intent on making that happen.
I expect many important scientific advances in exoplanets will continue to take place through diligent use of on-going space missions such as Kepler, Spitzer and HST plus ground facilities as well as possible Explorer-class missions.
The major focus for the following decade was handed to us by the NRC in the New Worlds, New Horizons report of the decadal survey:
“The committee’s proposed program is designed to allow a habitable-exoplanet imaging mission to be well formulated in time for consideration by the 2020 decadal survey.”
The January meeting of the ExoPAG kicked off the process to fulfill that mandate, laying out a framework which we continue to elaborate. This process will require participation of all of the community of stakeholders. The major steps in the process are:
Through Spring 2012
January 2013 - 2014
Our commitment is to fashion through this process the best affordable and scientifically compelling exoplanet mission that will secure the endorsement of the CAA in 2015, and go on for further development for a mission start recommended by the decadal survey in 2020.
Come join the adventure.