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 worldwide.
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 in Houston.
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.