Skip to main content
ad info

 
CNN.com
  spacecorner
    Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  

 

  Search
 
 

 
SPACE
TOP STORIES

Mir cargo vessel abandoned

John Zarrella: Lessons learned from Challenger

Last rendezvous for Mir

Beginning of the end for Mir

(MORE)

TOP STORIES

Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's GO.com is a goner

(MORE)

MARKETS
4:30pm ET, 4/16
144.70
8257.60
3.71
1394.72
10.90
879.91
 


WORLD

U.S.

POLITICS

LAW

TECHNOLOGY

ENTERTAINMENT

HEALTH

TRAVEL

FOOD

ARTS & STYLE



(MORE HEADLINES)
*
 
CNN Websites
Networks image

NASA to announce 2005 mission to Mars

mars
NASA will announce plans for a 2005 mission to Mars on Thursday  

Agency switches to not-so-fast, not-so-cheap approach


In this story:

Unprecedented resolution

'Smarter' capability

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Still smarting over the loss of two spacecraft last year, NASA scientists are ready to unveil a much more cautious campaign to deploy robots on the surface of Mars over the next 15 years, CNN has learned.

The space agency's Mars brain trust on Thursday will announce a 2005 mission in which an orbiter will map the Martian surface with an eagle-eyed camera. In 2007, a "major lander and rover" mission will follow.

  INTERACTIVE
Manipulate the
Mars Global Surveyor

QTVR Panorama of the
Pathfinder landing site
 

Beyond that, sources say, the agency will remain vague about Mars missions over the next fifteen years. This stands in contrast to the specific agenda outlined in the heady days of the "faster, better, cheaper" approach to space exploration.

Before the Mars Climate Orbiter and Polar Lander were lost in, respectively, October and December of last year, NASA had hoped to send a lander to the surface of the Red Planet in 2003. The craft would have been capable of gathering - and then launching back to earth -- samples of Martian soil and rock.

Agency officials have not ruled out such a mission, but are not prepared to announce any plans for one. Sources say NASA would like to be more flexible in its response to any scientific surprises -- or engineering failures.

Unprecedented resolution

The '05 orbiter mission being unveiled on Thursday will feature a camera that would map the Martian surface with unprecedented 20-centimeter resolution -- meaning it will be able to record features as small as a license plate.

The satellite currently orbiting Mars -- the Global Surveyor -- is capable of 3-meter resolution, and even at that level of clarity, astounded scientists this past June with tantalizing hints that liquid water may exist beneath the surface of the frigid, arid planet.

The lander-rover combination to be launched in 2007 will touch down with the aid of rocket thrusters -- not the airbag scheme used on the successful Pathfinder mission in July of 1997. A landing site has yet to be chosen.

'Smarter' capability

Agency officials say the Mars program will be spending more money on technology so future landers can be equipped with a "smarter" descent capability -- such as a radar that could steer a craft clear of menacing terrain. NASA would prefer to avoid using airbags because they are extremely heavy -- thus limiting the number of scientific instruments a lander can tote.

The Mars Polar Lander did not have any obstacle avoidance capability as it made its approach to the surface of Mars even though a rock as high as a coffee-table would have been a show-stopper. As it turns out, that may have been a moot issue, as engineers believe a sensor on the Polar Lander mistook landing gear deployment for the jolt of touchdown, silencing the descent engines prematurely.

NASA officials say future Mars missions will receive Pathfinder-sized budgets of between $200 million and $300 million -- or roughly the entire budget for the Polar Lander and Climate Orbiter missions combined.

Launch windows for missions to Mars open up every 26 months -- when the planet is in its closest proximity to Earth.

In August, NASA announced that in 2003 it will send to Mars a pair of updated versions of the Sojourner rover that wheeled its way into the public fancy during the Pathfinder mission in '97.

Next April, in the only mission that survived the bloodletting in the wake of the 1999 Mars "mean season," the Surveyor 2001 should begin a trek to Martian orbit that will, if all goes well, end this time next year. The orbiter will be equipped with three sensors designed to find proof of ancient Martian water flows.

Surveyor 2001 was not killed because the failure of its sister ship -- the Mars Climate Orbiter -- was attributed to a navigational blunder, not a hardware flaw.



RELATED STORIES:
Theory: Carbon dioxide, not water, formed Mars canyons
August 4, 2000
NASA, European Mars missions to overlap
August 2, 2000
Rover mission headed to Mars in 2003
July 27, 2000
Mars 'colonists' undaunted by bad luck, punishing weather
July 21, 2000
NASA postpones Mars mission announcement
July 21, 2000

RELATED SITES:
NASA
Mars Exploration
JPL Mars Missions

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

 Search   

Back to the top   © 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.