NASA Plans New Mars Rover For 2020, Human Exploration By 2030s
December 5, 2012

NASA Plans New Mars Rover For 2020, Human Exploration By 2030s

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Building on the huge success of the Mars Science Laboratory´s Curiosity mission and its past Spirit and Opportunity missions, NASA is making new plans to send a new rover to the Red Planet in 2020. And if all goes as planned, NASA said it also wants to put astronauts in orbit around Mars by the 2030s, highlighting a call for human space exploration outlined by President Barack Obama.

NASA said the cost of a rover mission fits well within the five-year budget plan in President Obama´s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal, despite deep cuts made earlier in the year.

The current Mars budget is about $582 million, but was projected to be slashed by $200 million back in February, people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

With the commitment and support of the President, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said “we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."

The agency´s plan to design a new Mars robotic science rover for a 2020 launch comes just months after NASA/ESA jointly announced InSight, a geophysical lander developed that will be placed on Mars to study its deep interior. InSight is scheduled to launch in 2016, and will bring NASA´s total to seven operating or planned missions to study and explore the fourth planet from the sun.

NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld, in a press event at the American Geophysical Union conference, announced the space agency will play a major role in two ESA missions. NASA is providing the UHF communications systems for the 2016 InSight mission and in 2018 will provide a molecular analyzer for the ExoMars rover. Grunsfeld added that the Russian space agency will also be a significant partner in both ESA-led missions

As for the 2020 NASA-led rover mission, Grunsfeld said that NASA will begin work shortly, using the same team that developed the hugely successful Curiosity rover that has been busy as a bee on Mars since early August. He noted that spare parts designed for the Curiosity mission may become key components in the 2020 mission.

NASA added that by using some of the same components and architecture used for Curiosity, it should help keep overall costs–and risks–down.

"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," said Grunsfeld, adding that a bidding process will open designing the specific payload and scientific instruments for the 2020 mission, beginning with the establishment of a team to outline the scientific objectives of the mission.

While NASA continues its Curiosity mission and looks to the future, its Opportunity rover is still plugging away on the Red Planet, recently finishing up a walkabout along the crater rim of Matijevic Hill.

"If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that's what we've done with Opportunity," Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator at Cornell University, told TG Daily.

"We've got a list of questions posed by the observations so far. We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we're dealing with, and we're ready to start the detailed work," added Squyres.