Mars is ours for the forseeable future, NASA announced Tuesday with plans for a "robust" multi-year program that includes a 2020 launch date for a new robotic science rover.
With over-the-moon elation, the space agency reinforced its commitment to a Mars exploration program that meets "our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives," according to the official news release.
"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."
The "planned portfolio" includes:
- Curiosity and Opportunity rovers
- Two NASA spacecraft
- Contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars
- 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere
- Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars
- Participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover
To help keep mission costs and mission risks as low as possible, NASA/JPL's development and design of the future rover will be "based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture" that successfully sent Curiosity to the Martian surface last summer.
Says John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science (and astronaut), of the Mars Exploration Program restructuring:
"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation...This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity."
On Monday, inconclusive findings from the first scoop of Martian soil collected by the NASA's Curiosity rover were reported at the AGU meeting in San Francisco. On Tuesday, scientists said that the Opportunity rover had uncovered hints of clay along the Endeavour crater.