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Surprising Science

Desperately Seeking (Signs of) Martian

A newly-formed group at NASA hopes to build on the success of the Mars Curiosity rover by creating workable plans for future exploration of the planet.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

A report with the theme “Seeking the Signs of Life” is coming out in the next few weeks that will detail next steps in Mars exploration via the efforts of a newly-formed group at NASA, the Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG). The recent success of the Curiosity rover, combined with budget cuts and President Obama’s challenge to put humans on or near the planet in the next 20 years, is propelling the MPPG to come up with innovative changes to NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The report grew from a meeting of Mars experts in June that helped demonstrate the possibility of significant scientific progress  from research and development partnerships involving scientists from around the world.

What’s the Big Idea?

For example, the MPPG is “looking at mixing technology with increasing capability over time … leading up to putting larger things on the surface” than the 1-ton Curiosity. Suggestions presented include “gliders and balloons, ground-thumping penetrators, deep drilling platforms, slinky robot snakes, and even sensor-laden tumbleweed-like vehicles.” While some of these seem like they’re coming right out of science fiction and fantasy, the director of the Mars Exploration Program insists that the MPPG’s outputs remain in the realm of science fact, providing NASA with feasible ways towards discovering evidence of past or current life on the planet.

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