NASA is rethinking how it will explore Mars

PIA19929NASA is looking at a new way of studying Mars. Starting in the 2020s, scientists who participate in the agency’s Mars missions might no longer design and build their own highly specialized payloads to explore the red planet. Instead, planetary scientists could find themselves operating much as astronomers who use large telescopes do now: applying for time to use a spacecraft built with a generic suite of scientific instruments.

The proposed change is spurred by NASA’s waning influence at Mars. The agency’s long-running string of spacecraft is winding to a close, and international and commercial interests are on the rise. By the middle of the next decade, European, Chinese, Emirati and SpaceX missions are as likely to be at Mars as NASA is.

Jim Watzin, head of NASA’s Mars exploration programme in Washington DC, suggested the new approach to the red planet on 6 October at a virtual meeting of a Mars advisory group. “The era that we all know and love and embrace is really coming to an end,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that the future is not going to be the same as the past.” [More at link]

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