Workshop Held Regarding Future Of Mars Missions
June 27, 2012

Workshop Held Regarding Future Of Mars Missions

Lee Rannals for

International scientists and engineers gathered together in Houston, Texas a few weeks ago to discuss ideas about future exploration of Mars.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) set up a workshop to bring in new ideas, concepts and capabilities to address the challenges of exploring the Red Planet.

The discussions provided information for reformulating NASA's Mars Exploration Program (MEP) to be responsive to high-priority science goals and the challenges of sending humans to the planet in the 2030s.

Conference participants identified several approaches to missions that can be flown to Mars in the coming decade that would make progress toward returning Martian samples, and make significant advances in understanding the planet.

NASA said its Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) will be considering the workshop inputs in addition to "budgetary, programmatic, scientific and technical constraints."

"Scientists and engineers came together to present their most creative ideas for exploring Mars," John Grunsfeld, an astronaut, astrophysicist and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "Great ideas come from challenging the best and brightest and igniting their passion and determination to succeed."

The scientists and engineers at the workshop put together concepts that tapped into significant benefits that could be gained from technology investments by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Office of the Chief Technologist.

The participants also talked about the importance of establishing international collaboration early in the planning process, and sustaining it throughout future missions.

"Future Mars exploration missions will require new concepts and technologies," Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program, said. "There were many innovative and transformational concepts presented at the workshop. With continued investments in cutting-edge technology, these will lead to increased capability, reduced mission risk and lower mission costs."

The workshop had 200 attendees, with more than 1,600 people participating online through a live stream.

"The LPI workshop provided a broad set of ideas for Mars exploration, including synergies between science, human exploration and technology development," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "The number of workshop participants demonstrates the broad interest in Mars exploration."

NASA said the meeting helped provide a forum for broad community input on near-term mission concepts. The space agency said ideas for longer-term activities will be used to inform program architecture planning beyond the early 2020s.

"The scientific and technical community has given us quite a range of ideas to consider in reformulating the Mars Exploration Program," Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters, said in a statement. "Many concepts presented are highly relevant to the challenges the MPPG must address."