The traffic on Mars is expected to double in the near future. NASA today announced plans to launch two large scientific rovers to the red planet in 2003, rather than the original plan for just one, said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Both Mars rovers, to be built, managed and operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., currently are planned for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The first mission is targeted for May 22, with the second launch slated for June 4. After a seven-and-a- half month cruise, the first rover should enter Mars' atmosphere January 2, 2004, with the second rover bouncing to a stop on the Martian surface January 20.
The rovers will be exact duplicates, but that's where the similarities end. Relatives of the highly successful 1997 Sojourner rover, these 150-kilogram (300-pound) mobile laboratories may look and act alike, but they're going to decidedly different locations.
"For the first time, science and technology have given us the capability to explore alien planets in ways that used to exist only in science fiction movies," said Weiler. "To have two rovers driving over dramatically different regions of Mars at the same time, to be able to drive over and see what's on the other side of the hill -- it's an incredibly exciting idea." Weiler added, "I think everyone on Earth who has ever dreamed of being an explorer on an alien planet will want to go along for the ride as we explore the surface of Mars."
Scott Hubbard, Mars program director at NASA Headquarters said, "For the past few weeks NASA has been undertaking an extensive study of a two-lander option. Hubbard added, "The scientific appeal of using the excellent launch opportunity in 2003 for two missions was weighed carefully against the resource requirements and schedule constraints."
"Our teams concluded that we can successfully develop and launch these identical packages to the red planet," continued Hubbard. "We also determined that, in addition to the prospect of doubling our scientific return, this two-pronged approach adds resiliency and robustness to our exploration program."
"Mars is a beguiling place, and conducting a real mobile field-geology mission is always better when there are multiple perspectives," said Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars program scientist at NASA Headquarters. However, the landing sites have yet to be selected. "We are thinking about localities where there is evidence of surface processes involving what we might call 'past' water on Mars," Garvin said.
"This includes sites where we have today mineralogical evidence that water may have produced unique chemical fingerprints, as well as places where it seems likely water 'ponded' in closed depressions for enough time to modify the regional geology," Garvin added.
During the next two to three years, engineers and scientists will conduct an intensive search for potential touchdown sites. Using the flood of data still coming in from Mars Global Surveyor, and that expected starting in 2002 from the Mars 2001 Orbiter, scientists will search for compelling landing zones with the fewest hazards and select the best candidates.
"The goal of both rovers will be to learn about ancient water and climate on Mars," said Professor Steven Squyres, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and principal investigator for the rovers' Athena science package. "You can think of each rover as a robotic field geologist, equipped to read the geologic record at its landing site and to learn what the conditions were like back when the rocks and soils there were formed."
Given the high priority NASA and the administration assign to the space science program overall, and to the timely exploration of Mars, the agency proposes that space science cover any additional costs of the first rover mission, and that the bulk of the cost for the second lander be reallocated from programs outside Space Science.
The Mars 2003 Rover project will be managed at JPL, for the Office of Space Science. Dr. Firouz Naderi is the Mars Program Manager at JPL, which is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
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