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NASA Chooses Mars Mission Proposals; Mars Surveyor Inquiry Set

By | January 15, 2007

      NASA chose for concept study development two proposals for future robotic missions to Mars.

      These missions would increase understanding of Mars’ atmosphere, climate and potential habitability in greater detail than ever before.

      NASA also will fund a U.S. scientist to participate in a proposed European Mars mission, as well as fund instrument technology studies that could lead to further contributions to future Mars missions.

      “These mission selections represent unprecedented future research that will lead to further advancing our knowledge and understanding of the Red Planet’s climate, and atmospheric composition,” said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

      Each Mars mission proposal will receive initial funding of approximately $2 million to conduct a nine-month implementation feasibility study. Following these detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select one of the two proposals by late this year for full development as a Mars Scout mission. The mission developed for flight would have a launch opportunity in 2011 and cost no more than $475 million.

      Selected Mars mission proposals are:

      • Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN: The mission would provide first-of-its-kind measurements and address key questions about Mars climate and habitability and improve understanding of dynamic processes in the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere. The principal investigator is Bruce Jakosky, University of Colorado, Boulder. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will provide project management.
      • The Great Escape mission: The mission would directly determine the basic processes in Martian atmospheric evolution by measuring the structure and dynamics of the upper atmosphere. In addition, potentially biogenic atmospheric constituents such as methane would be measured. The principal investigator is Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, will provide project management.

      NASA also selected Alian Wang of Washington University, St. Louis, to participate as a member of the science team for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission. Wang will receive about $800,000 to study the chemistry, mineralogy and astrobiology of Mars using instrumentation on the ExoMars mission, scheduled for launch in 2013.

      NASA also selected two proposals for technology development studies that may lead to further NASA contributions to ExoMars or other Mars missions. The two technology development studies, funded for a total of $1.5 million, are:

      • Urey Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector: The Urey instrument would investigate organics and oxidant materials on Mars using three complementary detection systems. The principal investigator is Jeffrey Bada, University of California at San Diego.
      • Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or MOMA: The instrument would investigate organic molecular signatures and the environment in which they exist using a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph. The principal investigator is Luann Becker, University of California at Santa Barbara.

      These selections were judged to have the best science value among 26 proposals.

      Mars Surveyor Inquiry

      NASA formed an internal review board to probe why the Mars Global Surveyor went silent in November, and recommend any processes or procedures that could increase safety for other spacecraft.

      Mars Global Surveyor launched in 1996 on a mission designed to study Mars from orbit for two years. It accomplished many important discoveries during nine years in orbit. On Nov. 2, the spacecraft transmitted information that one of its arrays was not pivoting as commanded. Loss of signal from the orbiter began on the following orbit.

      Mars Global Surveyor has operated longer at Mars than any other spacecraft in history and for more than four times as long as the prime mission originally planned.

      The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, Calif., managed Mars Global Surveyor for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

      The Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] unit Space Systems at Denver developed and operated the spacecraft.

      Mars Orbiter Site Spotted

      A high-resolution camera on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the 1997 landing site of the Mars Pathfinder, according to NASA.

      The small Pathfinder rover, Sojourner, seems to have moved closer to the stationary lander after the final data transmission from the lander.

      Pathfinder landed on July 4, 1997, and transmitted data for a dozen weeks.

      Sojourner could communicate only with Pathfinder, and couldn’t directly communicate with Earth.

      In the video, ramps, the science deck and portions of airbags of the lander are visible. The parachute and backshell used during descent to the surface lie nearby, with a hill between these items and the lander. Portions of heat shields also may be visible.

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