NASA is making ambitious plans to land a second rover on Mars in 2020 and send astronauts there in the 2030s.
The cost of the mission fits within the five-year budget plan in the president’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, despite the deep cuts made earlier this year.
The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program,” says NASA administrator Charles Bolden. “With this next mission, we’re ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s.”
The new rover will be based on the same architecture as the Curiosity rover currently exploring the planet. This will keep down the costs – and the risks, says NASA.
“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,” says NASA’s associate administrator for science, astronaut John Grunsfeld.
“This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity.”
There will be an open bidding process for the mission, which will begin with the establishment of a science definition team to outline the scientific objectives.
The plan for the new rover comes only months after the agency announced the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will launch in 2016 to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars.
Meanwhile, the Curosity rover has finished its walkabout of the Matijevic Hill crater rim.
“If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that’s what we’ve done with Opportunity,” says Steve Squyres, the mission’s principal investigator at Cornell University.
“We’ve got a list of questions posed by the observations so far. We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we’re dealing with, and we’re ready to start the detailed work.”