MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary Hardin, JPL, (818) 354-0344
Don Savage, NASA Headquarters, (202) 358-1727
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 27, 2000
NASA GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE WITH PLANS FOR A MARS ROVER IN 2003;
POSSIBLE SECOND ROVER BEING STUDIED
In 2003, NASA plans to launch a relative of the now-famous
1997 Mars Pathfinder rover. Using drop, bounce and roll
technology, this larger cousin is expected to reach the surface
of the red planet in January 2004 and begin the longest journey
of scientific exploration ever undertaken across the surface of
that alien world.
Dr. Edward Weiler, associate administrator of the Office of
Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC., announced
today that the Mars rover was his choice from two mission options
which had been under study since March.
"Today I am announcing that we have selected the Mars
Exploration Program Rover rather than the orbiter option, which
was an extremely difficult decision to make," said Weiler. "At
the same time, we want to look into what could be an amazing
opportunity, as well as a challenge, by sending two such rovers
to two very different locations on Mars in 2003 rather than just
"We are evaluating the implications of a two-rover option,"
Weiler added. "I intend to make a decision in the next few weeks
so that, if the decision is to proceed with two rovers, we can
meet the development schedule for a 2003 launch."
With far greater mobility and scientific capability than
the1997 Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover, this new robotic
explorer will be able to trek up to100 meters (110 yards) across
the surface each Martian day, which is 24 hours, 37 minutes. The
Mars rover will carry a sophisticated set of instruments that
will allow it to search for evidence of liquid water that may
have been present in the planet's past, as well as study the
geologic building blocks on the surface.
"This mission will give us the first ever robot field
geologist on Mars. It not only has the potential for breakthrough
scientific discoveries, but also gives us necessary experience in
full-scale surface science operations which will benefit all
future missions," said Scott Hubbard, Mars program director at
NASA Headquarters. "A landed mission in 2003 also allows us to
take advantage of a very favorable alignment between Earth and
After launch on top a Delta II rocket, and a cruise of seven
and a half months, the spacecraft would enter the Martian
atmosphere January 20, 2004. In a landing similar to that of the
Pathfinder spacecraft, a parachute will deploy to slow the
spacecraft down, and airbags will inflate to cushion the landing.
Upon reaching the surface the spacecraft will bounce about a
dozen times and could roll as far as about one kilometer (a half
mile). When it comes to a stop, the airbags will deflate and
retract, and the petals will open, bringing the lander to an
upright position and revealing the rover.
Where the Pathfinder mission consisted of a lander, with
science instruments and camera, as well as the small Sojourner
rover, the Mars 2003 mission features a design that is
dramatically different. This new spacecraft will consist entirely
of the large, long-range rover, which comes to the surface inside
a Pathfinder landing system, making it essentially a mobile
Immediately after touchdown, the rover is expected to give
us a virtual tour of the landing site by sending back a high-
resolution 360-degree, panoramic color and infrared image. It
will then leave the petal structure behind, driving off as
scientists command the vehicle to go to rock and soil targets of
This rover will be able to travel almost as far in one
Martian day as the Sojourner rover did over its entire lifetime.
Rocks and soils will be analyzed with a set of five instruments.
A special tool called the "RAT," or rock abrasion tool, will also
be used to expose fresh rock surfaces for study.
The rover will weigh about nearly 150 kilograms (about 300
pounds) and has a range of up to about 100 meters (110 yards) per
sol, or Martian day. Surface operations will last for at least 90
sols, extending to late April 2004, but could continue longer,
depending on the health of the rover.
"By studying a diverse array of Martian materials, including
the interiors of rocks, the instruments aboard the rover will
reveal the secrets of past Martian environments, possibly
providing new perspectives on where to focus the quest for signs
of past life," said Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars program scientist at
NASA Headquarters. "Furthermore, the rover offers never-before-
possible opportunities for discoveries about the Martian surface
at scales ranging from microscopic to that of gigantic boulders.
This is a key stepping stone to the future of our Mars
One aspect of the Mars rover's mission is to determine
history of climate and water at a site or sites on Mars where
conditions may once have been warmer and wetter and thus
potentially favorable to life as we know it here on Earth.
The exact landing site has not yet been chosen, but is
likely to be a location such as a former lakebed or channel
deposit -- a place where scientists believe there was once water.
A site will be selected on the basis of intensive study of
orbital data collected by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, as
well as the Mars 2001 orbiter and other missions.
The alternative mission, which had been under consideration
for the 2003 opportunity, was a Mars scientific orbiter, which
featured a camera capable of imaging objects as small as about 60
centimeters (two feet) across, an imaging spectrometer designed
to search for mineralogical evidence of the role of ancient water
in Martian history, and other science objectives.
Teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.,
and Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo., conducted
separate, intensive, two-month studies of the missions.
"Both teams did an absolutely superb job in preparing these
proposals in a very compressed time frame," said Dr. Weiler.
"They both deserve a lot of credit for what they were able to
"This project can be accommodated within the President's
budget request for NASA, and we will spend the next few weeks
refining our budget estimates and other requirements, plus the
impacts and the consequences of sending two rovers to Mars
instead of one," said Hubbard. "When we have fully addressed all
of the issues, which may take several weeks, we will announce our
Images of the rover are available at: