FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, May 20, 2005

NASA Proposes Ambitious Mars Agenda

Riding high off the stunning success of the Mars Exploration Rovers, NASA is proposing an ambitious set of programs to further explore the Red Planet, in preparation for a hoped-for manned mission.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently being prepped for an August launch. The Phoenix Mars lander is scheduled for launch in 2007, followed by the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in 2009. The Telecommunications Orbiter will serve as a permanent uplink station for all future Mars missions.

The nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover system may launch in either 2009 or 2011. Still on the drawing board are plans for a mission to return samples of Mars rock and soil to Earth.

Beyond that, any further Mars exploration will depend on NASA's budget and competing priorities. President Bush's space vision, which he outlined in January 2004, calls for a manned mission to Mars, but not before 2020 (some at NASA cite 2030 as a more realistic date). By then, a whole new generation will be in charge in Washington... and will be facing an entirely different political landscape. Mars may or may not matter by then.

NASA is not alone in its desire to further explore Mars. The European Space Agency has proposed an ExoMars rover to be launched in 2011. Among other things, ExoMars will contain the internationally-designed Pasteur science package to further test for signs of life.

Source: Space.com (Yahoo!)