NASA has selected a proposal for a mission that would collect samples of martian atmospheric dust as one of four finalists for the first Mars Scout mission. The proposal, directed by Arizona State University geologist and cosmochemist Laurie Leshin, will receive a $500,000 grant to complete its development prior to the agency
NASA Selects ASU-Directed SCIM Proposal as One of Four Finalists for Mars Scout Mission Arizona State University
In the first step of a two-step process, NASA selected four proposals for detailed study as candidates for the 2007 “Scout” mission in the agency’s Mars Exploration Program.
NASA today announced four proposals — the first step of a two-step process — to select a 2007 “Scout” mission in the agency’s Mars Exploration Program. The first round winners are: SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars), ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey, PHOENIX, and MARVEL (Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout.
A hot-nosed robot melted its way 75 feet into an Arctic glacier in a test of NASA technology that one day could probe for life deep under ice on Earth, Mars and Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa. The cylindrical Cryobot – its copper tip heated to temperatures up to 195 degrees – took four days to bore into the glacier on the island of Spitsbergen, north of the Arctic Circle. “It was basically like a hot iron against the ice,” said Lloyd French, who was among scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology involved in October’s test.
Robots that melt their way through ice may one day explore below frozen surfaces of other worlds, based on a pioneering version that successfully bored into an Arctic glacier in an adventurous field test. NASA teamed with the Norwegian Polar Institute and Norwegian Space Center to use the ice-penetrating robot, or Cryobot, for the first time on a glacier on the island of Spitsbergen, far above the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian-administered international territory of Svalbad. A mission proposal called Cryoscout will compete with other Mars Scout proposals to be chosen by NASA for a 2007 launch to Mars. Cryoscout is one of 10 Mars Scout concepts selected last year for further study. It proposes using a Cryobot to descend through Mars’ polar ice cap. “If you want to learn about the climate history of Mars, which is important in the search for life, you want to examine the layers of the polar caps, and this is how you can do it,” said Scott Anderson, a geophysicist on the Cryobot field-test team.
America’s revised program for Mars exploration is now taking firm shape – a program which, in the opinion of every scientific group that has reviewed it, is infinitely better than the plan that existed before the twin disasters of the 1998 Mars missions. That earlier scheme was a wildly over optimistic, underfunded rush to a Mars sample return attempt in 2005, which would have probably collapsed through its sheer implausibility even if the 1998 missions had been totally successful. The revised program is now well defined through 2005 – consisting of two fairly long-range, sophisticated rovers in 2003, and an orbiter in 2005 equipped with an extremely high-powered telescopic camera (among other instruments) and capable of transmitting data back to Earth 12 times faster that Mars Global Surveyor now in Mars orbit can do. Beyond, 2005, however, the program remains flexible while funding positions are more established.
The scientists came armed with ideas for a robotic NASA mission using innovative spacecraft that hop, fly, float, roll and dig. By next year, NASA officials hope to select one idea as they prepare to build the new class of robotic spacecraft, called Scouts, for a $300 million mission the space agency intends to launch to Mars by 2007. What the first spacecraft will look like is anyone’s guess, but it is likely to be a departure from the group of orbiters and landers NASA has sent to Mars since the 1960s.
The ten most promising mission concepts of the 43 proposed to NASA for possible launch to Mars in 2007 as part of the “Scout” program were selected last week to receive funding for six months of continued studies. 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. 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. Those selected will receive up to $150,000 each for the study.
If there is an area of science where extreme creativity is needed, it is in planetary exploration, where the logistics are difficult, the unknowns are great and the costs are high. Perhaps for that reason, NASA has taken the exciting step of soliciting innovative, purely conceptual proposals for Mars exploration from the science community and then funding a select group to develop the concepts further.
NASA has picked nearly a dozen concepts that deserve further study for exploring Mars, including a red planet platoon of gliders, small landers, and a way to snag Martian atmospheric dust and gas for return to Earth.