SLUG: 5-47248 Mars Missions DATE: NOTE NUMBER:








INTRO: U-S space agency officials Thursday unveiled a revised, long-term program to explore Mars, the planet in our solar system thought to be most like Earth. As V-O-A's Jessica Berman reports, NASA revamped its plans after two Mars missions were lost.

TEXT: NASA officials were forced to think long and hard about the Mars exploration program after the loss last year of the multi-million-dollar Mars Climate Orbiter and the Polar Lander. In the wake of a blistering, independent report looking at what went wrong, Mars program managers spent six months retooling.

Space agency officials - including NASA Administrator Edward Weiler (PRON: 'WHY-LUR) - say the new and improved, 15-year blueprint for reaching and exploring the red planet will be science-driven rather than mission driven --


- recognizing that Mars has a tendency to surprise us. If you had voiced the opinion that there might be liquid water near the surface (of Mars) 12 months ago, you probably would have been laughed out of any scientific meeting. That's changed.


Another NASA official - Mars Program Director Scott Hubbard - says the previous program lacked clear lines of management oversight and accountability. He says that has been taken care of.

Mister Hubbard outlined a series of missions, beginning next year with the Mars Odyssey - an orbital mission that will study minerals on the red planet.


Our strategy is to conduct an intensive, phased reconnaissance of the planet that will provide the understanding that we need that will lead to answers to these questions about did life ever arise there, and could life be there today? We have an approach that follows the trail of both ancient water that we're sure was there, and possible modern water that may still be there today.


Mister Hubbard says space officials are hoping to uncover surprises on Mars. So they need a program that was "flexible, responsive and resilient."


That's one of the reasons that we've spaced out the orbital missions four years apart and the land missions four years apart. So that the (20)'03 rover missions, when they find surprises about studying the surface of Mars, we will have the time to incorporate that information into the design of something going in 2007.

/// OPT /// Before, they were jammed up next to each other, and there was less than a year to make any changes. And in a hardware program, it's nearly impossible to change a design. In fact, it is impossible in that short a period. /// END OPT ///


Scientists are going to be very interested in studyinig Mars' climate and rocks. Jim Garvin is head of the project's scientific team. Mister Garvin says Martian meteorites that have fallen to Earth cannot compare with material gathered directly from the planet itself.


They're out of context, out of time, out of space. They're also, if you will, contaminated by that process of entering the Earth's system and being captured there. We need to go and capture this element of Mars - the samples of the materials that make Mars work and make Mars rocks - (and) bring them back to Earth and interrogate them with the full power of our terrestrial labs.


Space agency officials say new technology - like an improved land rover that can travel 220 kilometers, the distance between Washington, D-C, and Philadelphia - will be used on later missions. But they say there will not be so much new technology on each new mission that it becomes bogged down.

U-S space agency officials estimate the Mars exploration project will cost around 450-million (U-S) dollars a year over the next five years. After that, officials say the cost could rise, depending on what they - and international space collaborators from France and Italy - find on the red planet. (Signed)