Future Mars Mission Submissions Pour In To NASA
May 25, 2012

Future Mars Mission Submissions Pour In To NASA

Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

NASA said it has received 400 mission concepts from scientists and engineers for a future Mars mission.

Scientists and engineers submitted their ideas to the Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration Workshop in Houston, which was an event put together by NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

Both individuals and teams submitted their visions to the NASA program for a new strategy to explore the Red Planet.

The space agency is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program to enable it to reach high-priority science goals, as well as President Barack Obama's ambitions to have man walk on Mars in the future.

"This strong response sends a clear message that exploring Mars is important to future exploration," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release. "The challenge now will be to select the best ideas for the next phase."

NASA will be selecting certain concepts out of the 400 for a workshop June 12 through 14, which will be hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

The scientists behind the ideas that are selected for the workshop will be invited to present and discuss concepts, options, capabilities and innovations aimed at advancing man's reach for the study of Mars.

"Developing abstracts is very time consuming, requiring intense preparation, and we appreciate the fabulous response," Doug McCuistion, director, NASA's Mars Exploration Program in Washington, said in the press release. "Even though space is limited, to ensure transparency in the process anyone can observe the scientific and engineering deliberations via the Web."

Associated working groups will consider the ideas and concepts during the workshop, NASA said, and near-term ideas will be taken into consideration for early mission planning in the 2018 to 2024 timeframe.

The Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) will mull over the workshop concepts, along with considerations like the NASA budget, and scientific and technical constraints.

The National Research Council's Planetary Science Decadal Survey, which ranks scientific objects, rated the return of Mars samples to Earth as a top scientific goal.  MPPG will be considering the goals set forth by this survey when making its decision.

"Getting to Mars is hard," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said. "We've had successes and losses, but the human spirit to continue exploring the Red Planet prevails."

The MPPG report, which was developed in consultation with the scientific and technical community, is expected to be delivered for NASA review at the end of the summer.

NASA's new rover, Curiosity, will be arriving at the Red Planet this August after an eight-month journey through space.

Curiosity will help scientists assess whether Mars was or is an environment capable of supporting life.

NASA also has the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter scheduled for launch in 2013.  This mission is the first to be devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.