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Rover mission headed to Mars in 2003

Mars 2003 rover, depicted here in artist's rendering, would travel as far in a day as Sojourner did in its lifetime  

(CNN) -- NASA plans to send a large rover to Mars in three years, expanding the search for water on the red planet, the space agency announced Thursday.

In selecting the mobile mission over a proposed orbiter satellite, officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said they also were studying the possibility of dispatching a second rover.

The proposed mechanical martian explorer, a powerful mobile laboratory, would be similar to the 1997 Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover, the agency said. Like that machine, the 2003 rover would rely on an airbag cocoon to land with a drop, bounce and roll.

But with anticipated greater mobility and scientific abilities, the new generation rover should embark on the longest expedition across the red planet.

  INTERACTIVE
Manipulate the
Mars Global Surveyor

QTVR Panorama of the
Pathfinder landing site
 
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The new robotic explorer is supposed to capable of traveling up to 110 yards (100 meters) each 24-hour, 37-minute martian day -- the same distance the miniature Sojourner rover trekked during its three-month trip.

The Pathfinder mission included a scientific lander as well as Sojourner. But the 2003 mission's hardware will consist exclusively of the super rover, a de facto mobile scientific lander, NASA said.

After a planned landing on Mars in January 2004, the 300-pound (136-kilogram) rover is expected to explore the surface until at least April. Likely landing sites include a former lakebed or channel deposit, which scientists think once contained water.

Mars
NASA hopes to take advantage of a favorable Earth-Mars alignment in 2003 to send a new rover to the red planet  

To select a site, NASA in large part will rely on data from the Mars Global Surveyor, which has orbited the red planet since 1997. Last month planetary scientists studying images from the satellite announced they had found strong evidence of liquid water near the martian surface in the recent geologic past.

NASA is considering expanding the 2003 rover mission, said Ed Weiler, the space agency's second in command.

"We want to look into what could be an amazing opportunity by sending two such rovers to two very different locations," he said in a statement.

The agency, which postponed an official decision since Monday, selected the rover mission over a scientific satellite that would have featured a camera with a much higher resolution than the Mars Global Surveyor.



RELATED STORIES:
NASA postpones Mars mission announcement
July 21, 2000
Liquid may have surfaced on Mars
June 23, 2000
Mars images suggest recent water flow
June 21, 2000
NASA: Premature engine shutdown likely doomed Mars lander
March 28, 2000

RELATED SITES:
NASA
Mars Pathfinder

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