By Frank Morring, Jr. & Amy Svitak, Aviation Week, 10.01.12
NASA has decided it can do a Mars sample-return mission on its own, but it will continue to collaborate with the European Space Agency on Mars exploration despite dropping out of Europe's ExoMars program last year.
Even though Europe has shifted to working with Russia on ExoMars, the program's 2016 orbiter could help provide data and command relays between Earth and a 2018 NASA rover on the surface of Mars. However, it remains to be seen if there will be such a rover, and what it could do if NASA finds the funds to build it.
The U.S. space agency has 4-6 months to decide how it will proceed under its reduced Mars-exploration funding plan. That decision will be shaped by a new set of mission options from the agency's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) instrument landing system, and possibly by congressional signals on fiscal 2013 funding levels for Mars. Also in the mix is the role of potential collaborators outside NASA's Science Mission Directorate, including the European Space Agency (ESA).
“Now what we're trying to do is go out and work with the human exploration folks and the technology development folks and decide how we synergize the four areas of NASA and still enable the U.S.—along with our international partners—to put humans on Mars in the 2030s,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, speaking Sept. 26 during a visit to Liege, Belgium.
To read the full article, please click here.
To read the Mars Program Planning Group's Summary of the Final Report, which discusses options for a Mars sample return mission in detail, please click here.