Houston workshop marks key step in planning future Mars missions

June 26, 2012

A recent workshop conducted for NASA by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, marked a key step in the agency's effort to forge a new Mars strategy in the coming decades. A report that summarizes the wide range of cutting-edge science, technology and mission concepts discussed is available online.

Held in Houston June 12-14 and attended by scientists and engineers worldwide, the meeting was held to seek ideas, concepts and capabilities to address critical challenge areas in exploring the Red Planet. Discussions provided information for reformulating NASA's Mars Exploration Program (MEP) to be responsive to high-priority science goals and the challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

Participants identified a number of possible approaches to missions that can be flown to Mars in the coming decade that would make progress toward returning Martian samples -- a top priority of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey -- and make significant advances in scientific understanding of the planet, developing key technologies and advancing knowledge necessary for on and around Mars.

NASA's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG), tasked with developing options for a reformulated MEP, will consider 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," said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut, astrophysicist and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Great ideas come from challenging the best and brightest and igniting their passion and determination to succeed."

The MPPG reports to Grunsfeld, who chairs the agency-wide Mars reformulation effort along with William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati and Chief Technologist Mason Peck. The official draft MPPG report is expected to be delivered to NASA for review at the end of the summer.

Concepts put forth 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 stressed 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," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "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."

Workshop attendance included almost 200 scientists, engineers and graduate students from academia, NASA centers, federal laboratories, industry, and international partner organizations. More than 1,600 people participated online as the workshop proceedings were streamed live on the Internet.

"The LPI workshop provided a broad set of ideas for Mars exploration, including synergies between science, human exploration and technology development," Gerstenmaier said. "The number of workshop participants demonstrates the broad interest in Mars exploration."

The workshop provided a forum for broad community input on near-term mission concepts. Ideas for longer-term activities will be used to inform program architecture planning beyond the early 2020s. Workshop results represent individual perspectives from members of the scientific and technical community.

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

NASA will land its most advanced rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars in August. This mobile science laboratory will assess whether the past or present environment on Mars could support life. In 2013, NASA will launch the Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiter, the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

Explore further: Nasa receives widespread concepts for future Mars missions

More information: To view LPI's report, workshop presentation videos, and compilation of the abstracts, visit: www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/marsconcepts2012/

Related Stories

NASA seeks new ideas for Mars missions

April 13, 2012

The US space agency said Friday it is seeking fresh ideas for robotic missions to explore Mars, after budget cuts nixed a planned partnership with the European space agency.

Mars Sample Return: bridging robotic and human exploration

July 21, 2008

The first robotic mission to return samples to Earth from Mars took a further step toward realisation with the recent publication of a mission design report by the iMARS Working Group. The report, defines key elements of ...

Recommended for you

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...

Saturn's bulging core implies moons younger than thought

December 7, 2016

Freshly harvested data from NASA's Cassini mission reveals that Saturn's bulging core and twisting gravitational forces offer clues to the ages of the planet's moons. Astronomers now believe that the ringed planet's moons ...

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Cassini transmits first images from new orbit

December 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's ...

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.