Donald Savage

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1547)

RELEASE: 00-81

In 2003, NASA may launch either a Mars scientific orbiter
mission or a large scientific rover which will land using an
airbag cocoon like that on the successful 1997 Mars Pathfinder
mission. The two concepts were selected from dozens of options
that had been under study. NASA will make a decision on the
options, including whether or not to proceed to launch, in early

Two teams, one centered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), Pasadena, CA, and the other at Lockheed Martin
Astronautics, Denver, CO, will conduct separate, intensive two-
month studies to further define the concepts. In the studies the
teams also will evaluate risk, cost, and readiness for flight,
allowing 36 months of development leading to a May 2003 launch

The reports will be submitted for review to Mars Program
Director Scott Hubbard at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. Dr.
Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA
Headquarters, will make the final decision of which mission — if
any — to launch in the 2003 opportunity. If selected, the cost
of the 2003 mission will be about the same as the successful 1997
Mars Pathfinder mission (adjusted for inflation).

“Our budget will support only one of these two outstanding
missions for the 2003 launch opportunity, and it will be a very
tough decision to make,” said Dr. Weiler. “Following this
decision, later in the year we will have a more complete overall
Mars exploration program to present to the American public which
will represent the most exciting, most scientifically rich program
of exploration we have ever undertaken of the planet Mars.”

“These two mission concepts embody the requirements we have
learned through the hard lessons of two recent Mars mission
failures, and either one will extend the tremendous scientific
successes we have had with the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars
Pathfinder,” said Hubbard.

The Mars Surveyor Orbiter is a multi-instrument spacecraft
similar in size to the currently operating Mars Global Surveyor.
It is designed to recapture all the lost science capability of the
Mars Climate Orbiter mission as well as to seek new evidence of
water-related materials. The orbiter’s mission will be to study
the martian atmosphere and trace the signs of ancient and modern
water. Its instruments potentially will include a very high-
resolution imaging system, a moderate-to-wide-angle multicolor
camera, an atmospheric infrared sounder, a visible-to-near-
infrared imaging spectrometer, an ultraviolet spectrometer, and
possibly a magnetometer and laser altimeter. Telecommunications
relay equipment that could be used to support Mars missions for 10
years also would be included.

The rover is a based on the Athena rover design, which
already has been operated in field tests and previously was
considered for the cancelled 2001 lander mission. The concept
being proposed for the 2003 mission involves packaging the 286-
pound (130-kilogram) rover in a system similar to the 1997 Mars
Pathfinder structure, which would be cushioned on landing by
airbags. Unlike the 1997 mission, however, the four-petal, self-
righting enclosure would serve only as a means to deliver the
rover to the surface and not function as a science or support

After landing, the Mars Mobile Lander would serve as a self-
contained mission, communicating directly with Earth or with an
orbiting spacecraft band as the rover traverses the martian
terrain. The rover would be capable of travelling up to 100 yards
(100 meters) a day, providing unprecedented measurements of the
mineralogy and geochemistry of the martian surface, particularly
of rocks, using a newly developed suite of instruments optimized
to search for clues about ancient water on Mars. The mobile
surface-laboratory will be able to gain access to a broad
diversity of rocks and fine-scale materials for the first time on
the surface of Mars, in its search for evidence of water-related
materials. The rover’s mission would last for at least 30 days on
the surface.

“We are opening up a new frontier on the Red Planet, and we
can’t afford to overlook anything,” Weiler added. “We have to
make sure we plan it well, provide our people with the tools they
need, and do whatever it takes to ensure the best possible chances
for success.”

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