NASA Press Release on Mars Exploration Strategy


By means of orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions,
NASA's revamped campaign to explore Mars, announced today, is poised
to unravel the secrets of the red planet's past environments, the
history of its rocks, the many roles of water and, possibly, evidence
of past or present life.

Six major missions are planned in this decade as part of a scientific
tapestry that will weave a tale of new understanding of Earth's
sometimes enigmatic and surprising neighbor.

The missions are part of a long-term Mars exploration program which
has been developed over the past six months. The new program
incorporates the lessons learned from previous mission successes and
failures, and builds on scientific discoveries from past missions. The
NASA-led effort to define the program well into the next decade
focused on the science goals, management strategies, technology
development and resource availability in an effort to design and
implement missions which would be successful and provide a balanced
program of discoveries. International participation, especially from
Italy and France, will add significantly to the plan. The next step
will be an 18-month programmatic systems engineering study to refine
the costs and technology needs.

In addition to the previously announced 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter
mission and the twin Mars Exploration Rovers in 2003, NASA plans to
launch a powerful scientific orbiter in 2005. This mission, the Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, will focus on analyzing the surface at new
scales in an effort to follow the tantalizing hints of water from the
Mars Global Surveyor images and to bridge the gap between surface
observations and measurements from orbit. For example, the
Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of Martian landscapes at
20-to-30-centimeters (8-to-12-inch) resolution, good enough to observe
rocks the size of beach balls.

NASA proposes to develop and to launch a long-range, long- duration
mobile science laboratory that will be a major leap in surface
measurements and pave the way for a future sample return mission. NASA
is studying options to launch this mobile science laboratory mission
as early as 2007. This capability will also demonstrate the technology
for accurate landing and hazard avoidance in order to reach what may
be very promising but difficult-to-reach scientific sites.

NASA also proposes to create a new line of small "Scout" missions that
would be selected from proposals from the science community, and might
involve airborne vehicles or small landers, as an investigation
platform. Exciting new vistas could be opened up by this approach
either through the airborne scale of observation or by increasing the
number of sites visited. The first Scout mission launch is planned for

In the second decade, NASA plans additional science orbiters, rovers
and landers, and the first mission to return the most promising
Martian samples to Earth. Current plans call for the first sample
return mission to be launched in 2014 and a second in 2016. Options
which would significantly increase the rate of mission launch and/or
accelerate the schedule of exploration are under study, including
launching the first sample return mission as early as 2011. Technology
development for advanced capabilities such as miniaturized surface
science instruments and deep drilling to several hundred feet will
also be carried out in this period.

Mars missions can be launched every 26 months during advantageous
alignments - called launch opportunities - of the Earth and Mars,
which facilitate the minimum amount of fuel needed to make the long

The agency's Mars Exploration Program envisions significant
international participation, particularly by France and Italy. In
cooperation with NASA, the French and Italian Space Agencies plan to
conduct collaborative scientific orbital and surface investigations
and to make other major contributions to sample collection/return
systems, telecommunications assets and launch services. Other nations
also have expressed interest in participating in the program.

"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, Washington, DC. "We're moving from the early era of
global mapping and limited surface exploration to a much more
intensive approach. We will establish a sustained presence in orbit
around Mars and on the surface with long-duration exploration of some
of the most scientifically promising and intriguing places on the

"The scientific strategy developed for the new program is that of
first seeking the most compelling places from above, before moving to
the surface to investigate Mars," said Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA Mars
Exploration Program Scientist at Headquarters. "The new program offers
opportunities for competitively selected instruments and
investigations at every step, and endeavors to keep the public
informed on each mission via higher bandwidth telecommunication on the

"NASA's new Mars Exploration Program may well prove to be a watershed
in the history of Mars exploration," said Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA's
Associate Administrator for Space Science. "With this new strategy,
we're going to dig deep into the details of Mars' mineralogy, geology
and climate history in a way we've never been able to do before. We
also plan to 'follow the water' so that in the not-to-distant future
we may finally know the answers to the most far-reaching questions
about the red planet we humans have asked over the generations: Did
life ever arise there, and does life exist there now?"

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Program for NASA's Office of Space
Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena.

Images of the Mars Exploration Program can be downloaded at: An animation of
the Mars 'Smart' Lander can be downloaded at: (Quicktime 4.0 plugin