NASA announced today that the 2003 mission to Mars will include a lander carrying a rover for Mars surface exploration -- possibly even two rovers.
"Double the rovers: double the fun...and double the science, too," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society about the possibility of sending two rovers to Mars in 2003.
Scheduled to launch in June, 2003 and land on January 20, 2004, the Mars Exploration Program Rover will bounce to the surface on airbags just like the successful 1997 Pathfinder spacecraft. But, unlike Pathfinder, whose small rover communicated with a stationary science platform on the surface, the 2003 spacecraft will consist entirely of a large, long-range rover, making it essentially a mobile scientific station.
"The Planetary Society applauds NASA's decision to return to the surface of Mars with a mobile explorer," said Friedman. "With a surface area the size of Earth's land mass and possible liquid water, Mars is an essential space exploration goal in the 21st century."
With far greater mobility and scientific capability than Pathfinder, the Mars Exploration Program Rover will be able to travel up to 100 meters across the surface each Martian day, traveling almost as far in one day as the Pathfinder Sojourner rover did over its entire lifetime.
The 2003 rover will carry a sophisticated set of instruments that will allow it to search for evidence of liquid water that may have been present in the planet's past, as well as study the geologic building blocks on the surface.
The exact landing site has not yet been chosen, but mission planners will likely target a former lake bed or channel deposit - a place where scientists believe there was once water.
If NASA includes a second, duplicate rover, it might land at about the same time as the first rover, but in a very different location. The feasibility of the second rover is being studied by NASA headquarters, who will announce their decision in the next few weeks.
"The Planetary Society looks forward to this mission and to providing an opportunity for student and public involvement in Mars exploration," Friedman said.
The Society currently offers students worldwide a chance to participate with the ongoing Mars Global Surveyor mission via the Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars project. Red Rover Goes to Mars was originally developed for the now cancelled Mars 2001 lander mission. Visit the Society's website at http://planetary.org for more information.