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 8-to-12-inch (20-to-30-cm) 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 labroatory
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
which 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?”

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