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Thursday, October 26, 2000

NASA Redesigns the Mars Program

Rover size comparison.
Rover size comparison.
Credit: NASA
In perhaps the most exciting press conference NASA has ever held, the United States space agency, in cooperation with France and Italy, has unveiled a series of multibillion dollar orbiters, landers, and return pods to examine the Red Planet unlike ever before. The news comes after France announced Tuesday its joint cooperation with NASA and the mission to Mars.

Six missions will be launched this decade, and each mission will utilize European techniques with "aerocapture" and fuel efficient technology. Beginning with the 2001 Mars Odyssey set to launch next year, each orbiter and lander will complete multiple task assignments while in orbit. The complete radar mapping of the surface should be complete within 6 months via the Global Surveyor, after which NASA can focus on studying Mars's geological and climatological history.

The following is an up-to-date agenda of the NASA's next 15 years. Although little is known about the missions below, we will bring you the latest news as it is released.

    2001 Mars Odyssey (orbiter)
    2003 Twin Rovers (landers)
    2005 Reconnaissance Orbiter (orbiter)
    2007 Smart Lander (mobile science laboratory)
    2007 "Scout" proposed by scientific community
    2009 Radar Mapping Orbiter (orbiter)
    2011 Lander Sample Return (lander)
    2011 "Scout" proposed by scientific community
    2014 Lander Sample Return (lander)
    2015 "Scout" proposed by scientific community
    2016 Lander Sample Return (lander)

Red will be a key deciding factor in what missions will be sent to Mars and when. One of the coolest things about NASA's plans for the future is something called a "Scout". These smaller missions would be chosen by the scientific community and would take the form of long-range survey balloons, low-cost landers, or even airplanes that could fly "a thousand miles down the canyons of Mars," said Scott Hubbard, Mars program director at NASA Headquarters.

What we have ahead of us is something truly incredible. NASA has realized that going to Mars is a priority of the human race and one that will be and must be accomplished. What knowledge we gain on the Red Planet will become the basis for a manned mission that NASA has obviously made clear will take place within 30 years. The future of Mars begins today.

- posted by Alex @ 16:03 EST