|October 26, 2000
NASA OUTLINES MARS EXPLORATION PROGRAM FOR NEXT TWO DECADES
By means of orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return
missions, NASA's revamped campaign to explore Mars, announced
today, is poised to unravel the secrets of the red planet's past
environments, the history of its rocks, the many roles of water
and, possibly, evidence of past or present life.
Six major missions are planned in this decade as part of a
scientific tapestry that will weave a tale of new understanding
of Earth's sometimes enigmatic and surprising neighbor.
The missions are part of a long-term Mars exploration
program which has been developed over the past six months. The
new program incorporates the lessons learned from previous
mission successes and failures, and builds on scientific
discoveries from past missions. The NASA-led effort to define the
program well into the next decade focused on the science goals,
management strategies, technology development and resource
availability in an effort to design and implement missions which
would be successful and provide a balanced program of
discoveries. International participation, especially from Italy
and France, will add significantly to the plan. The next step
will be an 18-month programmatic systems engineering study to
refine the costs and technology needs.
In addition to the previously announced 2001 Mars Odyssey
orbiter mission and the twin Mars Exploration Rovers in 2003,
NASA plans to launch a powerful scientific orbiter in 2005. This
mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will focus on analyzing
the surface at new scales in an effort to follow the tantalizing
hints of water from the Mars Global Surveyor images and to bridge
the gap between surface observations and measurements from orbit.
For example, the Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of
Martian landscapes at 20-to-30-centimeters (8-to-12-inch)
resolution, good enough to observe rocks the size of beach balls.
NASA proposes to develop and to launch a long-range, long-
duration mobile science laboratory that will be a major leap in
surface measurements and pave the way for a future sample return
mission. NASA is studying options to launch this mobile science
laboratory mission as early as 2007. This capability will also
demonstrate the technology for accurate landing and hazard
avoidance in order to reach what may be very promising but
difficult-to-reach scientific sites.
NASA also proposes to create a new line of small "Scout"
missions that would be selected from proposals from the science
community, and might involve airborne vehicles or small landers,
as an investigation platform. Exciting new vistas could be opened
up by this approach either through the airborne scale of
observation or by increasing the number of sites visited. The
first Scout mission launch is planned for 2007.
In the second decade, NASA plans additional science
orbiters, rovers and landers, and the first mission to return the
most promising Martian samples to Earth. Current plans call for
the first sample return mission to be launched in 2014 and a
second in 2016. Options which would significantly increase the
rate of mission launch and/or accelerate the schedule of
exploration are under study, including launching the first sample
return mission as early as 2011. Technology development for
advanced capabilities such as miniaturized surface science
instruments and deep drilling to several hundred feet will also
be carried out in this period.
Mars missions can be launched every 26 months during
advantageous alignments -- called launch opportunities -- of the
Earth and Mars, which facilitate the minimum amount of fuel
needed to make the long trip.
The agency's Mars Exploration Program envisions significant
international participation, particularly by France and Italy. In
cooperation with NASA, the French and Italian Space Agencies plan
to conduct collaborative scientific orbital and surface
investigations and to make other major contributions to sample
collection/return systems, telecommunications assets and launch
services. Other nations also have expressed interest in
participating in the program.
"We have developed a campaign to explore Mars unparalleled
in the history of space exploration. It will change and adapt
over time in response to what we find with each mission. It's
meant to be a robust, flexible, long-term program that will give
us the highest chances for success," said Scott Hubbard, Mars
Program Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "We're
moving from the early era of global mapping and limited surface
exploration to a much more intensive approach. We will establish
a sustained presence in orbit around Mars and on the surface with
long-duration exploration of some of the most scientifically
promising and intriguing places on the planet."
"The scientific strategy developed for the new program is
that of first seeking the most compelling places from above,
before moving to the surface to investigate Mars," said Dr. Jim
Garvin, NASA Mars Exploration Program Scientist at Headquarters.
"The new program offers opportunities for competitively selected
instruments and investigations at every step, and endeavors to
keep the public informed on each mission via higher bandwidth
telecommunication on the web."
"NASA's new Mars Exploration Program may well prove to be a
watershed in the history of Mars exploration," said Dr. Ed
Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science. "With
this new strategy, we're going to dig deep into the details of
Mars' mineralogy, geology and climate history in a way we've
never been able to do before. We also plan to 'follow the water'
so that in the not-to-distant future we may finally know the
answers to the most far-reaching questions about the red planet
we humans have asked over the generations: Did life ever arise
there, and does life exist there now?"
JPL manages the Mars Exploration Program for NASA's Office
of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Images of the Mars Exploration Program can be downloaded at:
An animation of the Mars 'Smart' Lander can be downloaded at:
(Quicktime 4.0 plugin required)