On Dec. 4, NASA announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover based on the Curiosity design set to launch in 2020. The planned portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover. With InSight, there will be a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.
The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president's challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.
NASA ADVANCES COMMERCIAL SPACEFLIGHT, HELPS MAKE HISTORYA Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft successfully resupplied the International Space Station and returned cargo back to Earth in October, completing NASA's first contracted cargo delivery flight. Under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract, SpaceX will fly at least 12 cargo missions to the space station through 2016. The Dragon launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 882 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, scientific research and hardware. Dragon returned almost twice that amount of cargo, including a freezer packed with research samples collected in the orbiting laboratory's unique microgravity environment. These samples will help advance multiple scientific disciplines on Earth and provide critical data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station's research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for analysis.