Still buzzing from a white-knuckle landing and so-far-flawless mission for the Mars rover Curiosity, NASA is planning to send it some company in the next several years, the space agency confirmed Tuesday. Chief among NASA's newest Mars plans: Another rover, built on the same architecture that air-dropped Curiosity in Gale Crater this summer.
"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science and a former astronaut.
The new rover would launch in 2020 and would bear at least some resemblance to its sibling, although it's not clear exactly what. But at the very least, it would have a very similar entry, descent and landing plan, with a sky crane that can lower the hefty car to the surface instead of letting it bounce on airbags.
Like Curiosity, this new rover could affirm that huge items can be safely set down on Mars, possibly paving the way for human visitors. NASA was already sending several new explorers to Mars in the coming years, but the rover is a new addition to the group.
First up is MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, which aims to study Mars' potential methane reserves and what happened to its atmosphere, which has been lost in great quantities. After that, NASA is launching the InSight probe--for Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport--in 2016, to drill 30 feet into the Martian crust.
During the following two years, the emphasis shifts to Europe, whose space agency is launching its ExoMars missions in partnership with Russia. These were originally supposed to be in partnership with the U.S., but NASA largely backed out, citing funding restraints. Tuesday, Grunsfeld said NASA would provide "Electra" telecommunication radios, which will help the ExoMars hardware communicate with Earth, and a critical component of the mission's astrobiology instrument.
The first part of the mission is an orbiter, and the mission's second part in 2018 includes a rover with a molecular analysis instrument designed for astrobiology experiments.
Then in 2020, the blue-shirted engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory could be back in the spotlight with the newly announced rover. NASA has a lot of planning to do to determine what it will carry--a drill, a core-sample instrument, maybe even something to cache samples that could eventually be returned to Earth for study, Grunsfeld said.
The good news is that the space agency already has a big head start. Curiosity was a resounding success in its landing alone--and it's already made some interesting discoveries, and more are sure to come--and the people who made all that possible are still around and able to plan another mission. Even some components are available, like a spare power supply built for Curiosity.
Curiosity's legacy is still very much to be determined, but even a couple months into a two-year mission, it's already been so successful that it's spawning further missions for new generations. "Truly the Earth-shaking news from Curiosity is that it all works," Grunsfeld told reporters.
As part of this new Mars roadmap, NASA is also planning to operate the rover as long as it lives, which could be a very long time if Opportunity is any indication.
The new rover mission fits within NASA's five-year budget plan in the President Obama's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, the space agency said.
One wrinkle worth noting: This means there's less funding for other science exploration missions, like a Titan boat, comet hopper or other proposals for outer icy moons. Grunsfeld said NASA is still researching those and some missions may get re-proposed, but they're more expensive than going back to Mars.
"Mars does have a special place; it's an opportunity where we can have early synergy between human spaceflight and science opportunities," he said.
Either way, this is all contingent on future appropriations and cliffs of fiscal nature. We'll see what happens.
F*** that. They need to concentrate more of there funds on making that warp drive work. Instead of going to mars AGAIN, we could be going to other stars' planets. Here's the link for those who don't have a clue...
their not there haha
Its a shame they put the Titan boat on the back burner.
The only thing NASA wants to do is keep playing in the sand box. They're boring as hell.....Warp drive. Now you're talking.
Nice illustrational drawing of Curiosity. I am glad we are in space, on Mars and exploring and gathering scientific data! NASA is awesome!
Why NASA is always concentrating on MARS only? Instead they have to go for asteroids mining/ moon mining by that we get precious metals and country economy improves. But they r wasting time and money for a seemingly less valued missions.
"...John Grotzinger, the project scientist for Curiosity, said that the rover's in great shape do to more good science on top of the reams of data it's already collected, noting that all of Curiosity's instruments have checked out healthy. He compared the rover to a car getting ready for a long road trip; the "CSI lab on wheels" will begin its drive to its main target, Mount Sharp, early in 2013.
As to whether Curiosity will find evidence of life on Mars or not, Grotzinger said that such a discovery is at least months away. Right now, the team is excited about rich data that helps form a picture of what the environment on Mars might have been like in the past.
Grotzinger added, "What I've learned from this is you have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it. We're doing science at the speed of science; we live win a world that's at the pace of Instagrams."
"Curiosity's middle name is Patience, and we all have to have a healthy dose of that...." ~
Why don't we just send people now? We can obviously land safely and accurately on Mars and people can do things that a rover can't. Forget the robots and lets start exploring ourselves.
Also, why is it only NASA going to space and other planets still? I want to see a private company go to Mars.
"A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?" - Albert Einstein
Would you like that 'super sized' and a toy, too..... sheesh.
Curiosity has a total cost of 2.5 billion dollars.
How hard was it to land Curiosity on Mars?
"...With the arrival of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory on Mars in August, many scientists have been asked “How hard is it to land Curiosity on Mars?” (Note: Curiosity is the official “nickname” for MSL). According to NASA, if you were to use a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, the difficulty level of MSL’s landing on Mars would be 20!..."
@peoblob - how will they survive? They need a habitat to live in. Also, what will they eat/drink? How will they return back to Earth?
Sending people to Mars at this point in time is not realistic. Part of the rover’s mission to Mars was to see if space flight was even safe to deal with radiation during extended travel. NASA has to consider all angles before sending someone to another planet. Think of all of the variables, forget just one and it's all over for the poor sole(s) involved. The cost alone to send someone to Mars would be, dare I say it, "astronomical".
I agree 100% with @Robot on this one. Cost alone is enough to make this not possible today. We have a lot of growing up to do before we can safely send someone to another planet.
I'm happy to see NASA focus on study at this point. The more we learn about Mars remotely, the safer and cheaper it will be once we can send people there.
YEA!!!!!!! I just read an article, Curiosity mission will continue indefinitely!!!
@peoblob the answer to your question. We do not yet possess the technology to shield the crew from cosmic rays for the 3-9 month journey to Mars. By the time the astronauts get there, they will be fried chicken.
We need the Enterprise D. If only we had a Federation Starship....warpdrive, transporters, shields, deflector dish, phasers, quantum torpedos...drool.......or how about the Battlestar Galactica.....we could always make Babylon 5...I hope someday I live to see an awesome starship, and a city on the moon or mars.
Now take these pills and a sip of this water. Yes, yes, that is good, lay back and take a good long nap. Everything will be alright. Shall I make sure you straight jacket isn't to binding sir?
It might be true that we don't have the technology to make it 'safely' to Mars yet, but we aren't even attempting it. They should be working on human space travel instead of perfecting landing rovers on nearby planets. Maybe land a rover on Europa or Pluto or send one to an Exoplanet. Something other than Mars, please!
The fact that they have decided on another rover already after Curiosity means that they have no intention of working on manned space travel. While the costs might be 'astronomical' the benefits would far outweigh the costs. As poeblob said above, "people can do things that a rover can't" humans can do hundreds of tasks a rover cannot do and that would be with the human themselves without sophisticated tools. Hell, a human could have just kicked some dirt around to find out the planet isn't red all the way through.