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  1. NASA Picks Mars Scout Mission Ideas for Further Study

    Based on a NASA Headquarters press release

    NASA recently selected the ten most promising “Scout” mission concepts from among the 43 proposed for possible launch to Mars in 2007. The selected proposals will receive funding for six months of continued studies.

    Scout missions are innovative, relatively low-cost missions designed to further scientific knowledge of Mars in specific critical areas.

    Included in the ten concepts selected for study are missions to return samples of Martian atmospheric dust and gas, networks of small landers, orbiting constellations of small craft, and a rover that would attempt to establish absolute surface ages of rocks and soils.

    “The intent of these studies was to open wide the door for fresh new ideas,” said Scott Hubbard, Deputy Center Director for Research, at NASA Ames. “There was almost no constraint given on the type of missions which could be proposed or selected for study.”

    NASA plans to evaluate the ten innovative concepts using rapid six-month studies as a means for jump-starting the identification of new Mars Scout missions that will compete for a possible launch in 2007. The proposals were submitted to NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in the Office of Space Science in Washington, DC, in response to a call for proposals in March 2001. Each of those selected will receive up to $150,000.

    “These Scout concepts embody the spirit I first thought about more than one year ago, and will enable us to explore the diversity of Mars in new ways,” said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science. Weiler selected the ten winners on the basis of overall scientific merit and potential for implementation under a total mission cost cap of $300 million.

    “All of us in the Mars Program are thrilled with the response by the community with such incredible ideas,” said Dr. Jim Garvin, Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program. “These ten mission concepts provide revolutionary new vantage points and tools for exploring the new Mars that has emerged from the observations of the Mars Global Surveyor.”

    Next year, NASA plans to initiate a competition for small “Scout” missions to the Red Planet to broadly involve the scientific and aerospace communities in the Mars Exploration Program.

    “We have used this opportunity to be as inclusive as possible to engage the broadest possible cross-section of the community,” said Orlando Figueroa, Mars Program Director. The ten concepts selected in this round will not be given any advantage in that competition.

    The selected mission concepts, and their principal investigators, are:

    • SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars): Professor Laurie Leshin, Arizona State University, Tempe. A spacecraft would sample atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and use a “free-return trajectory” to bring the samples back to Earth.
    • KittyHawk: Professor Wendy Calvin, University of Nevada- Reno. Three gliders would explore the composition and stratigraphy of the walls of Valles Marineris in ways not possible for orbiters and landers.
    • Urey: Dr. Jeff Plescia, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ. A surface rover would remotely determine the absolute ages of geological materials, a task never before accomplished on any planet.
    • MACO (Mars Atmospheric Constellation Observatory): Professor Robert Kursinski, University of Arizona, Tucson. A network of micro-satellites as a constellation around Mars would characterize the 3-D structure of the atmosphere, giving a new look at Martian climatology.
    • Artemis: Professor David Paige, University of California, Los Angeles. Three small landers and micro-rovers on the Martian surface, two directed to the polar regions, would study climate and would explore the surface and shallow subsurface for water and organic materials.
    • MEO (Mars Environmental Observer): Dr. M. Janssen, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. A science orbiter would intensively explore the role of water, dust, ice and other materials within the Martian atmosphere to understand parts of the hydrologic cycle.
    • Pascal: Dr. Rob Haberle, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. A network of 24 weather stations on the Martian surface would continuously monitor and provide data on humidity, pressure and temperature during a period of two years or longer.
    • Mars Scout Radar: Dr. Bruce Campbell, Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC. An orbiter would use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging to map the surface geomorphology and very shallow subsurface (three to five meters deep), to detect buried water channels and other features.
    • The Naiades: Dr. Bob Grimm, Blackhawk GeoServices, Golden, CO. Four landers would explore for subsurface liquid water using a novel low-frequency sounding method.
    • CryoScout: Dr. Frank Carsey, JPL. This mission, designed to use heated water jets to descend through Martian polar ice caps, could potentially probe to depths of tens to hundreds of meters while measuring composition and searching for organic compounds.