Sunday, April 15, 2012
NASA PLANNING GROUP TAKES KEY STEPS FOR FUTURE MARS EXPLORATION
Three generations of Mars Rovers. Credit: NASA
NASA's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG), established
to assist the agency in developing a new strategy for the exploration
of the Red Planet, has begun analyzing options for future robotic
missions and enlisting the assistance of scientists and engineers
NASA is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program to be responsive to
high-priority science goals and the President's challenge of sending
humans to Mars in the 2030s.
"We're moving quickly to develop options for future Mars exploration
missions and pathways," said John Grunsfeld, an astrophysicist,
five-time space shuttle astronaut and associate administrator for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in
Washington. "As part of this process, community involvement,
including international, is essential for charting the new
agency-wide strategy for our future Mars exploration efforts."
Grunsfeld leads the agency-wide Mars program reformulation effort
along with William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the
Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, Chief Scientist Waleed
Abdalati and Chief Technologist Mason Peck.
In February, Grunsfeld named veteran aerospace engineer Orlando
Figueroa to lead the MPPG. In March, the group established an initial
draft framework of milestones and activities that will include
options for missions and sequences bridging the objectives of NASA's
science, human exploration and operations and technology.
Starting today, the scientific and technical community across the
globe can submit ideas and abstracts online as part of NASA's effort
to seek out the best and the brightest ideas from researchers and
engineers in planetary science. Selected abstracts will be presented
during a workshop in June hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute
The workshop will provide an open forum for presentation, discussion
and consideration of concepts, options, capabilities and innovations
to advance Mars exploration. These ideas will inform a strategy for
exploration within available resources, beginning as early as 2018
and stretching into the next decade and beyond.
"Receiving input from our community is vital to energize the planning
process," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration
Program at NASA Headquarters. "We'll integrate inputs to ensure the
next steps for the Mars Exploration Program will support science, as
well as longer-term human exploration and technology goals."
The new strategy also will be designed to maintain America's critical
technical skills, developed over decades, to achieve the highest
priority science and exploration objectives.
NASA has a recognized track record of successful missions on Mars, and
exploration of the planet is a priority for the agency. The rover
Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, is still operating well
beyond its official mission of 90 days. There also are two NASA
satellites, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey,
orbiting Mars and returning unprecedented science data and images.
In August, NASA will land the Mars Science Laboratory, "Curiosity," on
the planet's surface. This roving science laboratory will assess
whether Mars was in the past or present an environment able to
support life. In 2013, NASA will launch the Mars Atmosphere and
Volatile Evolution orbiter, the first mission devoted to
understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.