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Twin Rovers Headed for Mars

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Twin Rovers Headed for Mars

NASA today announced plans to launch two large scientific rovers to the red planet in 2003.

August 10, 2000 -- The traffic on Mars is expected to double in the near future. NASA today announced plans to launch two large scientific rovers to the red planet in 2003, rather than the original plan for just one, said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

Both Mars rovers, to be built, managed and operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., currently are planned for launch on Delta II rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The first mission is targeted for May 22, with the second launch slated for June 4. After a seven-and-a- half month cruise, the first rover should enter Mars' atmosphere January 2, 2004, with the second rover bouncing to a stop on the Martian surface January 20.

Above: This image is a single frame from a striking new video of the planned Mars 2003 rover mission. [more information from NASA headquarters]

The rovers will be exact duplicates, but that's where the similarities end. Relatives of the highly successful 1997 Sojourner rover, these 150-kilogram (300-pound) mobile laboratories may look and act alike, but they're going to decidedly different locations.


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"For the first time, science and technology have given us the capability to explore alien planets in ways that used to exist only in science fiction movies," said Weiler. "To have two rovers driving over dramatically different regions of Mars at the same time, to be able to drive over and see what's on the other side of the hill -- it's an incredibly exciting idea." Weiler added, "I think everyone on Earth who has ever dreamed of being an explorer on an alien planet will want to go along for the ride as we explore the surface of Mars."

Scott Hubbard, Mars program director at NASA Headquarters said, "For the past few weeks NASA has been undertaking an extensive study of a two-lander option. Hubbard added, "The scientific appeal of using the excellent launch opportunity in 2003 for two missions was weighed carefully against the resource requirements and schedule constraints."

"Our teams concluded that we can successfully develop and launch these identical packages to the red planet," continued Hubbard. "We also determined that, in addition to the prospect of doubling our scientific return, this two-pronged approach adds resiliency and robustness to our exploration program."

"Mars is a beguiling place, and conducting a real mobile field-geology mission is always better when there are multiple perspectives," said Dr. Jim Garvin, Mars program scientist at NASA Headquarters. However, the landing sites have yet to be selected. "We are thinking about localities where there is evidence of surface processes involving what we might call 'past' water on Mars," Garvin said.

Mars 2003 Rover"This includes sites where we have today mineralogical evidence that water may have produced unique chemical fingerprints, as well as places where it seems likely water 'ponded' in closed depressions for enough time to modify the regional geology," Garvin added.

During the next two to three years, engineers and scientists will conduct an intensive search for potential touchdown sites. Using the flood of data still coming in from Mars Global Surveyor, and that expected starting in 2002 from the Mars 2001 Orbiter, scientists will search for compelling landing zones with the fewest hazards and select the best candidates.

Above: This artist's rendering shows a view of NASA's Mars 2003 Rover as it sets off to roam the surface of the red planet. The rover is scheduled for launch in June 2003 and will arrive in January 2004, shielded in its landing by an airbag shell. The airbag/lander structure, which has no scientific instruments of its own, is shown to the right in this image, behind the rover. [more information]

"The goal of both rovers will be to learn about ancient water and climate on Mars," said Professor Steven Squyres, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and principal investigator for the rovers' Athena science package. "You can think of each rover as a robotic field geologist, equipped to read the geologic record at its landing site and to learn what the conditions were like back when the rocks and soils there were formed."

Parents and Educators: Please visit Thursday's Classroom for lesson plans and activities related to this story.

Given the high priority NASA and the administration assign to the space science program overall, and to the timely exploration of Mars, the agency proposes that space science cover any additional costs of the first rover mission, and that the bulk of the cost for the second lander be reallocated from programs outside Space Science.

The Mars 2003 Rover project will be managed at JPL, for the Office of Space Science. Dr. Firouz Naderi is the Mars Program Manager at JPL, which is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Web Links

Mars Exploration Program - from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Science@NASA Stories about Mars:

Back to the Future on Mars -- July 28, 2000. NASA announces plans for a Mars rover in 2003 with a second rover under consideration.

Making a Splash on Mars -- June 29, 2000. Scientists ponder how to keep water in its liquid form on super-dry and cold Mars.

Mars Surprise -- June 22, 2000. New pictures from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft reveal gullies on Mars, possibly created by recent flash floods

Martian Swiss Cheese -- March 9, 2000. New pictures from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show exotic terrain made of dry ice near the Red Planet's south pole.

Unearthing Clues to Martian Fossils -- June 11, 1999. The hunt for signs of ancient life on Mars is leading scientists to an otherworldly lake on Earth.

The Red Planet in 3D -- May 27, 1999. New data from Mars Global Surveyor reveal the topography of Mars better than many continental regions on Earth.

Search for Life on Mars will Start in Siberia -- May 27, 1999. NASA funds permafrost study to support astrobiology research.


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For lesson plans and educational activities related to breaking science news, please visit Thursday's Classroom Source: NASA HQ Press Release 00-124
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