Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016 (2006)

Chapter: B MEPAG Goals and Objectives

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Suggested Citation: "B MEPAG Goals and Objectives." National Research Council. Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.

MEPAG Goals and Objectives

The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) is, according to its Web page, a “community-based forum designed to provide science input for planning and prioritizing Mars exploration activities for the next several decades…. MEPAG regularly evaluates Mars exploration goals, objectives, investigations, and required measurements on the basis of the widest possible community outreach.”1 In other words, MEPAG is not an appointed committee. All members of the Mars science and engineering communities can attend MEPAG meetings, and whoever wants to provide input can do so. MEPAG is generally regarded as quite effective in many respects, and its open, inclusive, and proactive approach to scientific and technical issues has made it a model of community engagement, a model now emulated by the outer solar system, Venus, and lunar science communities.

MEPAG has issued its comprehensive assessment of Mars goals, objectives, investigations, and required measurements four times in the last 5 years, most recently in February 2006.2 Some might argue that the recommendations in MEPAG assessment reports reflect the wish lists of the people who go to the meetings, and that certain parts of the Mars community are much more engaged than others. To be fair, however, MEPAG’s Goals Document Committee has equal representation from four distinct groups, which parallel MEPAG’s four key Mars science goals. Thus, it can be argued that the recommendations from the Goals Document Committee are more even-handed and representative of the Mars science community than is the representation of different interest groups at MEPAG meetings.

MEPAG’s priorities are determined by a consensus-building process and are organized in a top-to-bottom hierarchical manner as follows:

  • Goals are long-term priorities and are organized around major scientific topics. Understanding Mars as a unified system implies that progress must be made by addressing all of the goals simultaneously, and so they are regarded as coequal in priority. MEPAG’s four goals are each subdivided into objectives.

  • Objectives describe the strategic approaches and milestones needed to address the goals. They are prioritized on the basis of either their importance or their position in a logical sequence of activities needed to address a particular scientific question. The 2006 MEPAG priorities list eight scientific objectives and two objectives relating to safe mission operations. The objectives are each subdivided into investigations.

  • Investigations are the prioritized individual activities that, taken together, are needed to address each objective. Some investigations may be amenable to studies using the data from a single instrument on a single

Suggested Citation: "B MEPAG Goals and Objectives." National Research Council. Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.

spacecraft, but others will require data from multiple instruments on multiple spacecraft. Investigations are further subdivided into measurements.

  • Measurements constitute actions that can be undertaken by a specific instrument on a specific spacecraft.

The goals and objectives contained in MEPAG’s 2006 listing of priorities are as follows:

  • Goal I. Determine if life ever arose on Mars.

Objective A. Assess the past and present habitability of Mars.

Objective B. Characterize carbon cycling in its geochemical context.

Objective C. Assess whether life is or was present on Mars.

  • Goal II. Understand the processes and history of climate on Mars.

Objective A. Characterize Mars’s atmosphere, present climate, and climate processes.

Objective B. Characterize Mars’s ancient climate and climate processes through study of the geologic record.

Objective C. Characterize the state and processes of the martian atmosphere of critical importance for the safe operation of spacecraft.

  • Goal III. Determine the evolution of the surface and interior of Mars.

Objective A. Determine the nature and evolution of the geologic processes that have created and modified the martian crust and surface.

Objective B. Characterize the structure, composition, dynamics, and evolution of Mars’s interior.

  • Goal IV. Prepare for human exploration.

Objective A. Obtain knowledge of Mars sufficient to design and implement a human mission with acceptable cost, risk, and performance.

Objective B. Conduct risk and/or cost reduction technology and infrastructure demonstrations in transit to, at, or on the surface of Mars.



1. See, for example, <>.


2. MEPAG reports can be found online at <>.

Suggested Citation: "B MEPAG Goals and Objectives." National Research Council. Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
Page 49
Suggested Citation: "B MEPAG Goals and Objectives." National Research Council. Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
Page 50
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The United States and the former Soviet Union have sent spacecraft to mars as early as 1966, with Mars' exploration being priority for NASA spacecraft. Both sides, however, have failed as well as succeed. The inability to determine if life exists on Mars is considered one of NASA's failures and undercut political support for additional Mars missions in the U.S. until the launch of the Mars Observer in 1992. Thus, the exploration of life on Mars continues, but with a new approach.

Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture, 2007-2016 is an assessment by the Committee to Review the Next Decade Mars Architecture of the National Research Council (NRC) conducted by request of Dr. Mary Cleave, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. The Committee addresses the following questions: Is the Mars architecture reflective of the strategies, priorities, and guidelines put forward by the National Research Council's solar system exploration decadal survey and related science strategies and NASA plans?, Does the revised Mars architecture address the goals of NASA's Mars Exploration Program and optimize the science return, given the current fiscal posture of the program?, and Does the Mars architecture represent a reasonably balanced mission portfolio?

After several months of study, consideration and incorporation of the guidance from NRC studies, especially New Frontiers in the Solar System, and the Vision for Space Exploration; community consultations via individual inputs; and a MEPAG-sponsored working group, a plan was created. This report includes the plan, which has an Astrobiology Field Laboratory or two Mild Rovers mission planned for 2016, recommendations from the committee, NRC guidelines for mars exploration, and more.

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