Scouting for Martian Molecules


NASA has selected four projects as possibilities for its first Mars Scout mission in 2007. This week’s selections for the Extreme Explorers’ Hall of Fame include the following projects:

  • SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars): This mission would sample atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and use a "free-return trajectory" to bring the samples back to Earth. Such samples could provide breakthrough understanding of the chemistry of Mars, its surface, atmosphere, interior evolution and potential biological activity.
    Extreme Explorers' Hall of Fame
    The wide angle view of the martian north polar cap was acquired on March 13, 1999, during early northern summer. The light-toned surfaces are residual water ice that remains through the summer season. The nearly circular band of dark material surrounding the cap consists mainly of sand dunes formed and shaped by wind. The north polar cap is roughly 1100 kilometers (680 miles) across.Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
  • ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey): This probe would study the near-surface atmospheric chemistry within the Mars planetary-boundary layer, providing clues to the chemical evolution of the planet, climate history and potential biological activity.
  • Phoenix: This mission would investigate volatiles (especially water), organic molecules and modern climate at high-latitude sites where Mars Odyssey has discovered evidence of large ice concentrations in the Martian soil. It aims to "follow the water".
  • MARVEL (Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout): This mission would conduct a global survey of the Martian atmosphere’s photochemistry to search for emissions that could be related to active volcanism or microbial activity, and track water in the Martian atmosphere.

    "This Scout selection will serve as a trailblazer for what we plan to be a continuing line of a small, yet exciting, class of Mars missions," said Orlando Figueroa, Director for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

    "These four outstanding proposals represent innovative ideas for exploring Mars on a modest budget to answer several priority questions about the Red Planet," said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters. "I’m very pleased that this competition produced such a wide range of incredibly exciting ideas and I congratulate all members of the science teams involved," he said.

    What’s Next

    Following detailed mission-concept studies, due for submission by July 2003, NASA intends to select one of the mission proposals by August 2, 2003, for full development as the first Mars Scout mission. The mission developed for flight will be launched in 2007.

    Extreme Explorers' Hall of Fame
    One Scoutlander design drawing as envisioned on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL Mars Exploration Art

    "Each of the selected missions pursues some of the greatest unknowns about potential biological activity on Mars, including such issues as the presence of organic molecules or their byproducts," said Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA’s Lead Scientist for Mars Exploration in Washington.

    The selection completes the first step of a two-step competition. The selected Scout science mission must be ready for launch before December 31, 2007, within a total mission cost cap of $325 million.

    Professor Laurie Leshin, Arizona State University, Tempe: Principal investigator, SCIM. Dr. Joel Levine, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.: Principal investigator, ARES. Dr. Peter Smith, University of Arizona, Tucson: Principal investigator, Phoenix. Dr. Mark Allen, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Principal investigator, MARVEL. The Mars Scout Program is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for the Office of Space Science, Washington.

    Related Web Pages

  • Mars Scout
  • Mars Exploration Program
  • NASA HQ Release