Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, funding for NASA has gradually decreased over time. With one of its primary drivers, the Cold War, gone it became harder and harder to justify excessive spending on space exploration by NASA after this time.
Since then many major projects, like the Space Shuttle, have been mothballed with others never seeing the light of day. The following 11 are great examples of these exploration projects dropped by NASA that we would have loved to see.
1. The 1990's Asteroid Rendezvous That Never Happened
NASA had planned an asteroid flyby mission, called Comet Rendezvous and Asteroid Flyby (CRAF), that was penciled in for launch in 1995. The mission's objective was to perform an asteroid flyby, piggyback it and deploy a sensor onto it.
It was canceled in 1992 due to funding cuts but some of the mission's goals were achieved later under the Stardust and Deep Impact missions.
2. Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) Was Planned to Search for Alien Life
NASA's Prometheus Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) was the plan to send a nuclear-powered robotic vessel to study Jupiter's frozen moons - Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. The mission was planned for launch in 2015 but was canceled during the 2006 NASA budget cuts.
The mission had hoped to probe for signs of life in the pitch black waters under the moons' ice caps.
3. Mars Telecommunication Orbiter Would Have Boosted Earth to Mars Communications
NASA has planned to upgrade its Mars to Earth communications for its growing fleet of rovers and other future planned vehicles. Called the Mars Telecommunication Orbiter, it was scheduled to arrive in Mars orbit around 2010.
Large-scale NASA budget cuts saw this project also canceled in 2005.
4. TAU Would Have Travelled One Thousand Astronomical Units
The Thousand Astronomical Units (TAU) mission was to be an unmanned probe that would travel 1,000 AU within 50 years from our solar system. It was proposed to launch anytime between 2005 and 2010 but would never leave the lab.
It was later canceled but some of its mission objectives were achieved by the New Horizons Mission to Pluto.
5. George Bush Had Hoped to Return to the Moon
George W. Bush laid out plans in 2003 to once again send manned missions to the Moon by 2020. These plans were later scrapped under the Obama Administration in order to shift focus to low-cost space taxi vehicles.
This change in focus included provision to incentivize private companies to develop their own solutions. The fruits of which we are beginning to see today with SpaceX and the like.
6. Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C) Would've Looked for Life on Mars
MAX-C was a 2018 planned mission to Mars that was to be part of the European ExoMars Mission. It was to be a specially designed Solar Powered Mars Rover which would have performed in situ astrobiological exploration.
It was canceled in 2011 due to NASA budget cuts at the time.
7. Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) Would've Looked for Other Earth-sized Planets
Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) was a planned space telescope by NASA and Northrop Grumman. Its primary mission would have been to search for nearby Earth-sized planets within the habitable zones of their parent suns.
Initial contracts for $200 million were awarded in 1998 but it would continue to be postponed until it was finally canceled in 2010.
8. Terrestrial Planet Finder Never Made It Off The Drawing Board
The Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, was a planned NASA project to build a system of space telescopes to find extrasolar terrestrial planets. Work began in 2002 but, like SIM, it was constantly delayed until ultimately being postponed indefinitely in 2011.
Two concepts were considered with the former, TPF-A, being a network of smaller satellites and the latter, TPF-C, consisting of one large telescope.
9. The Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey (ARES) Lost To MAVEN
ARES was a NASA Langley Research Center proposal for a powered aircraft drone that would fly on, and explore Mars. The team behind ARES sought selection for funding as a NASA Mars Scout Mission with a 2011 to 2013 launch period.
It would have traveled to Mars in a compact form. Once within Mars' thin atmosphere, it would have then deployed from a protective aeroshell to begin its mission to investigate Mar's atmosphere and analyze its relatively weak magnetic field.
The bid would ultimately be unsuccessful as NASA chose the MAVEN mission instead.
10. Pluto Kuiper Express Never Left the Drawing Board
Planned for launch in 2004, the Pluto Kuiper Express was a to be a spacecraft mission to study Pluto and the Kuiper belt beyond it. With an estimated price tag of $350 million in 2000, it was soon canceled by Congress due to budget concerns.
In 2006, however, the mission was somewhat resurrected as the New Horizons mission that should reach Pluto in 2019.
11. Beagle 3 Would Never Avenge Its Predecessor
Beagle 3 was a proposed Mars lander mission that would have helped search for life on Mars and support the European Space Agency's Aurora Programme. It was proposed immediately after the failed Beagle 2 mission.
Like Beagle 2, it drew its name from the HMS Beagle that Charles Darwin took his, now famous, voyage around the world.
Beagle 3 was rejected by NASA in 2004 and a further proposal to hitch a ride on the Mars Science Laboratory Mars Lander was also rejected.