Washington, DC - Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) applauded the new Mars program missions announced by NASA, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. Over the past year, Schiff has worked with the planetary science community and his congressional colleagues to urge NASA to reconsider its ill-advised cuts to the Mars Program. Today's announcement represents a major step away from that earlier decision, and Schiff will continue to push for expanded funding for the Mars Program through the regular Appropriations process and end of the year legislation.
"I am pleased that NASA has announced the next steps in its robotic exploration of Mars, namely the launch of a Curiosity-class rover to the Martian surface in 2020," said Rep. Schiff. " In its few short months on Mars, Curiosity has broadened our understanding of our planetary neighbor, and the findings announced thus far point to even greater discoveries as Curiosity continues to explore Gale Crater and Mount Sharp. An upgraded rover with additional instrumentation and capabilities is a logical next step that builds upon now proven landing and surface operations systems.
"While a 2020 launch would be favorable due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, a launch in 2018 would be even more advantageous as it would allow for an even greater payload to be launched to Mars. I will be working with NASA, the White House and my colleagues in Congress to see whether advancing the launch date is possible and what it would entail."
According to NASA, the planned expansion of the Mars exploration program would consist of the current constellation of spacecraft on the surface and in orbit around Mars, as well s the new NASA rover and contributions to Europe's planned ExoMars mission. The 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.
The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing 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.
The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade.