As a result of its discussions and deliberations concerning the above topics, the committee finds that NASA’s plans for the 2007, 2009, and 2011 launch opportunities have considerable merit. The committee does, however, have some specific concerns with the proposed mix and phasing of missions under consideration for launch in 2013 and 2016. The committee notes that the basic objectives and strategy articulated in New Frontiers in the Solar System (the solar system exploration decadal survey) are acknowledged and reiterated as the foundation of the program, in spite of the current fiscal constraints with which NASA is dealing. These objectives and strategy have also been recently reiterated by the Mars science community via the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), a structure that has enabled past and continuing science community involvement in, and ownership of, the Mars science process. While external forces have driven the Mars architecture to its science floor, that floor has, importantly, remained intact.
That said, the committee is concerned that the current Mars science program suffers from a lack of balance, in that two of the high-priority missions recommended by the SSE decadal survey do not appear in the 2007-2013 timeframe. An overall Mars science program that moves forward in a balanced, scientifically efficient manner can be guaranteed by undertaking the following actions:
Better defining the scientific rationales for the 2013 and 2016 missions (via appropriately constituted mission definition teams);
Including the Mars Long-Lived Lander Network in the mix of options for the 2016 launch opportunity;
Maintaining the science component of the proposed MSTO and its schedule;
Maintaining the R&A base; and
While future technology developments may enable better in situ analysis, e.g., for chronology, the committee finds that there is no substitute for an eventual sample return mission. A strategy to implement the Mars Sample Return mission must be devised, and a program to develop the technology necessary to enable this mission should start at the earliest possible opportunity.