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Friday, October 27, 2000

NASA's Updated Announcement on Mars Missions

Return sample mission.
Return sample mission.
Credit: NASA
After yesterday's incredible news we all had many questions. How much will these missions cost? or How does NASA plan to gain the scientific community's opinion on what Scouts to send? Although many questions remain unanswered, we've compiled an up-to-date list of facts that NASA has released within the last 18 hours.

The 2005 Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of Martian landscapes at 8 to 12 inch (20 to 30 centimeter) resolution. That resolution is about 10 times better than Global Surveyor's, good enough to observe rocks the size of basketballs.

In 2007, NASA will launch a long-range, long-duration mobile science laboratory, or MSL, that would take detailed measurements of the surface unlike ever before. A drill may accompany the cargo, capable of drilling hundreds of feet into the Martian regolith. The MSL would actually be a rover similar to the 2003 Twin Athena rovers, but much larger. This entire laboratory would land on the surface by way of a "smart lander" with the ability to fine-tune its descent to avoid obstacles. This sci-fi-like landing system (shown below) has an uncanny resemblance to the Apolo descent lander used to land on the moon.

"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.

We are up to our ears in email from our enthusiastic readers. As soon as NASA releases new information we'll post it here. Stay tuned for Future Missions sections with known information on each mission announced.

- posted by Alex @ 15:39 EST