If You Could Hitch a Ride to Mars…

Categories: Mars Missions News Brief

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

With the successful orbital insertion of the MAVEN spacecraft, NASA has opened registration for the Mars Balance Mass Challenge and has launched a new website for citizen scientists called NASA Solve.

The Mars Balance Mass Challenge is a new initiative to engage the public in developing future Mars missions. Space missions are always an exercise in balancing mass. First you have the mass of the spacecraft and the fuel cost of launching that mass into space. Next you have the launch vehicle and the maximum amount of mass that it’s rockets can push into the sky and beyond. Then, when a spacecraft carrying a lander reaches Mars and enters the atmosphere, mass has to be ejected to balance the lander.

One trick for mission planners is to balance all these factors and maximize the amount of scientific instruments that can be carried within all the constraints on a missions’ mass.

NASA is turning to the public for design ideas that can “turn available entry, descent, and landing balance mass on a future Mars mission into a scientific or technological payload.”

Artist’s concept shows the entry, descent and landing sequence that a lander would undergo on its way to Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist’s concept shows the entry, descent and landing sequence that a lander would undergo on its way to Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

The small payloads would provide a dual purpose by providing ejectable weight to balance planetary landers, and by collecting data that can help planetary scientists and astrobiologists learn about the red planet.

Submissions are due by Nov. 21, 2014. A winner will be announced in mid-January 2015 and receive an award of $20,000.

“We want people to get involved in our journey to Mars,” said Lisa May, lead program executive for NASA’s Mars exploration program in a recent press release. “This challenge is a creative way to bring innovative ideas into our planning process, and perhaps help NASA find another way to pack more science and technology into a mission.”

NASA Solve is a new website that will host all of NASA’s challenges and prizes. The site has a wealth of information on how citizen scientists can get involved in NASA missions, including details on the Mars Balance Challenge:


The Mars Balance Mass challenge is managed by NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI). CoECI was established in coordination with White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to advance NASA open innovation efforts and extend that expertise to other federal agencies. The challenges are being released on the NASA Innovation Pavilion, one of the CoECI platforms available to NASA team members, through its contract with InnoCentive, Inc.


Seven Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars. Credit: NASA JPL (YouTube).
Curiosity performed one of NASA’s most memorable martian landings to date. In this video, team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory share the challenges of the Curiosity Mars rover’s final minutes to landing on the surface of Mars.

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