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NASA Announces Plan to Launch Mars Rover in 2020

Dec 05, 2012 11:02 AM EST
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This is what it's like to spend eight months on Mars

NASA announced plans Tuesday to launch a rover to Mars in 2020, similar on the lines of Curiosity that is currently detecting if the environmental condition on the Red Planet could have ever supported microbial life.

The announcement was made during the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting this week in San Francisco.

"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "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 development will be based on the same architecture that successfully launched the Curiosity rover to Mars in early August this year. Scientists will be using landing methods such as sky-crane landing system and other engineering models similar to the ones used to develop Curiosity. This way they can ensure that the new mission costs and risks will be low.

Whilst Curiosity was sent on a $2.5 billion mission, developing the new rover will significantly reduce the cost of the mission to about $1.5 billion including launch costs, according to John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science.

"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," Grunsfeld said in a statement.

"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," he said.

A science definition team will be established which will be given the task of outlining the scientific objectives for the mission.

Once the team is set up, the Science Mission Directorate will establish processes for instrument selection, after which specific payload and science instruments for the 2020 mission will be openly competed.

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