The success of the rover missions in 2004 clearly has given the explora-
tion of Mars a scientific and public relations boost, even as the analysis of
gigabytes of data continues. The next nasa mission, the Mars Reconnais-
sance Orbiter (mro), is scheduled to go into orbit in 2006, and features
the high resolution imaging experiment (hirise), a camera that will be
able to take photographs at a variety of scales down to one meter: from
orbit, hirise will reveal objects the size of basketballs on the surface of
Mars. For the first time, an interplanetary spacecraft will be able to
produce images that rival the photographic resolution of cameras on
surface landers. A web site now exists for members of the public to
suggest targets to photograph as scientists plan to zero in on a variety of
enticing targets: possible sources of methane and water vapor detected by
Mars Express, layered terrain in ancient flow channels, the gullies photo-
graphed by the mgs, and many others. Although the mro mission is
being defined by nasa primarily as a series of geological and climatologi-
cal investigations, the spacecraft will also scout landing sites for the next
generation of surface rovers.
Significantly, the success of Spirit and Opportunity makes it very, very
di≈cult to imagine another twenty-year gap (the hiatus between Vik-
ing and Pathfinder) before new landers explore the red planet’s surface.
nasa’s current Mars plans include a series of missions, including the
Phoenix lander (projected launch date: 2007), which will include updated
versions of some of the experiments lost when the Mars Polar Lander
crashed in 1999. A new generation of rovers (projected launch date: 2009)
will be the first interplanetary suvs, with the capability to travel up to ten
miles over rough terrain and be instrumented with a more complex array
Previous Page Next Page