Open Innovation Help for Future Mars Missions
NASA reaches out to scientists, engineers and students for new ideas for its Mars missions.
NASA, United States
With the American space agency NASA feeling the financial pinch it has had to reformulate some of its planned exploration of Mars. Budget cuts meant a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) couldn't go ahead. The two organizations were slated to work together on a project called ExoMars that would've sent an orbiter to the red planet in 2016 and two landers in 2018.
Connecting with a Global Network
So NASA issued an appeal for scientists all over the world to submit ideas and abstracts for Mars missions. The best of these were presented at a workshop in Houston, Texas organized by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
In all, 390 abstracts were submitted and a subset was selected for presentation by the Workshop Planning Team. They were chosen for their alignment to workshop goals and to reflect a broad range of concepts and ideas. Attendance to the workshop was limited to 185 participants and so it was streamed through the web. Remote participants could submit questions and get real-time responses.
Objectives for Mars
The workshop, informed by ideas from outside NASA is a critical part of the ongoing discussions that are reformulating the space agency’s Mars Exploration Program.
The abstracts and workshop conversations focused on the near-term and long-term objectives for the exploration of Mars.
The near-term looked at the next decade, and launch possibilities in 2018 and 2020, whist the long-term looked at technology needs for robotic and manned missions up to and including the 2030s.
Obama Sets Goals for Mars
Some of these goals are designed to meet President Obama’s challenge of sending humans to the vicinity of Mars some time during the decade of the 2030s.
In a major speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2010 the President said: “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”
The priority at the moment is to take credible steps toward a Mars Sample Return program, something that could yield the highest scientific return.
Answers to Important Questions
The planet was formed more than 3.5 billion years ago, when life started on the Earth and has a well preserved geological record, an understanding of which could help to answer a number of questions about:
• How and whether life arose elsewhere in the Universe
• Planetary evolution processes
• Relationship between biological and geological history
Missions launched in 2018 and 2020 will (in addition to the science) provide information that could be used to reduce the cost and risk for future robotic and manned missions.
NASA judged the meeting and the engagement with the wider scientific community and interested parties to be a success. This relationship with external expertise is helping to inform the space agency about how it can meet its objectives for Mars within the current financial climate.
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