National Academies Press: OpenBook

Review of NASA's Planned Mars Program (1996)


Suggested Citation:"5 ASSESSMENT OF THE SCIENTIFIC POTENTIAL OF NASA'S MARS EXPLORATION PROGRAM." National Research Council. 1996. Review of NASA's Planned Mars Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12278.
Page 36
Suggested Citation:"5 ASSESSMENT OF THE SCIENTIFIC POTENTIAL OF NASA'S MARS EXPLORATION PROGRAM." National Research Council. 1996. Review of NASA's Planned Mars Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12278.
Page 37

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Review of NASA's Planned Mars Program 5 Assessment of the Scientific Potential of NASA's Mars Exploration Program According to its current formulation, NASA's Mars program has the potential to achieve the following over the next decade: 1. Accomplish the goals of Mars Observer, although stretched over several launches, and so provide the basic global data needed to guide future exploration; 2. Add to our knowledge of the regolith's chemistry and mineralogy, and the isotopic composition of the atmosphere, thereby leading to improved information about past climates; 3. Achieve understanding of the exchange of volatiles at high latitudes; 4. Better characterize the dynamics of the atmosphere; and 5. Ascertain the geomorphologic characteristics of the surface and the nature of the local rock record at several landing sites. Should ESA's Intermarsnet mission progress with NASA's participation, the program will also: 6. Determine the internal structure of the planet and the present level of seismic activity. This is a vigorous and challenging program in an era of reduced science funding. The three themes of the Mars Surveyor program (life, climate, and resources), plus the unifying topic of water, are responsive to the priorities given in previous science plans, such as the Integrated Strategy (as long as NASA's current interpretation of "resources" as covering the study of martian geology, geophysics, and geochemistry continues to hold), and capture the overall objectives of the scientific community.

COMPLEX is, however, concerned about several engineering and technical aspects and about NASA's ability to carry them out within a relatively modest budget. These include: q The number of launches that must be accomplished; q The variety of new spacecraft that must be developed; and q The technological challenges set by the restricted size of the spacecraft and their payloads. Nevertheless, COMPLEX believes that NASA's Mars program is aggressive and scientifically exciting. It holds enormous promise for advancing our understanding of this, the most Earthlike of the planets. Although it does not meet all scientific requirements (e.g., in aeronomy, internal structure, and seismic activity, or with respect to a sophisticated exploration for extant or extinct life), its scientific potential is great and will be broadly consistent with a significant subset of the scientific priorities outlined in the Integrated Strategy provided that: q The program of global mapping planned to begin with Mars Global Surveyor in 1996 is completed by flying the Pressure Modulator Infrared Radiometer in 1998 and the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer in 2001; q The mobility of landers and other vehicles is enhanced beyond that exemplified by Mars Pathfinder's rover so as to allow measurements to be made on a wide variety of rocks and terrains; q The Mars Surveyor program is kept flexible so that it can respond to scientific and technological opportunities and can encompass a broad range of mission modes; q International partners continue to be involved in order to supplement U.S. capabilities and leverage U.S. resources committed to the program; q An aggressive program for development of miniaturized instruments is initiated; and q The goal of returning samples of martian soil, atmosphere, and, most importantly, rocks remains a central element of NASA's planning. Copyright © 2004. National Academy of Sciences. Al rights reserved. 500 Fifth St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement

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