During recent months, NASA has been developing a long-term Mars exploration program that charts a course for
the next two decades. The new program incorporates the lessons learned from previous mission successes and
failures, and builds on scientific discoveries from past missions. International participation, especially from Italy
and France, will add significantly to the plan.
Smart Lander and Long-range Rover
NASA proposes to develop and to launch a roving long-range, long-duration science laboratory that will
be a major leap in surface measurements and pave the way for a future sample return mission. NASA is studying
options to launch this mobile science laboratory mission as early as 2009. This capability will also demonstrate the
technology for "smart landers" with accurate landing and hazard avoidance in order to reach what may be very promising but
difficult-to-reach scientific sites.
NASA also proposes to create a new line of small "Scout" missions which would be selected from
proposals from the science community, and might involve airborne vehicles (e.g., airplanes or balloons) or small landers, as an investigation
platform. Exciting new vistas could be opened up by this approach either through the airborne scale of observation
or by increasing the number of sites visited. The first Scout mission launch is planned for 2007.
Sample Return and Other Missions
In the second decade of the century, NASA plans additional science orbiters, rovers and landers, and the first
mission to return samples of Martian rock and soil to Earth. Current plans call for the first sample return mission to
be launched no earlier than 2014. Options that would significantly increase the rate of mission launch
and/or accelerate the schedule of exploration are under study. Technology development for advanced capabilities such as miniaturized surface science instruments
and deep drilling to hundreds of meters will also be carried out in this period.
The program envisions significant international participation, particularly by France and Italy. In cooperation with
NASA, the French and Italian space agencies plan to conduct collaborative scientific orbital and surface
investigations and to make other major contributions to sample collection/return systems, telecommunications
assets and launch services. Other nations also have expressed interest in participating in the program.