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NASA Roadmap for the Robotic and Human Exploration of Mars

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2005

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Full Report (PDF)

About the Roadmap

In December 2004, NASA established a number of strategic roadmap teams to provide guidance and priorities for achievement of the nation's space exploration objectives. This was partly in response to the Vision for Space Exploration, as well as to the Presidential Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy (the "Aldridge Commission"). This is the report of the team chartered to study the robotic and human exploration of Mars. The Mars Roadmap Committee met three times in January, February, and March 2005. All of the strategic roadmap committees were requested by NASA to terminate their activities and provide their best-effort reports by May 2005; consequently, this document has not undergone the level of detailed editing, production, and printing that would normally have been expected. Nonetheless, the Committee feels that it has reached important conclusions about the priorities for the Mars exploration program, and has created a framework for the key decisions that will one day lead to human exploration of Mars. This document articulates those priorities and recommendations.

Preface

NASA has been engaged in the scientific exploration of Mars for over forty years. During the past decade, six spacecraft - three NASA landers, two NASA orbiters, and one European orbiter - have begun to patch together the pieces of a wonderfully complex puzzle as they reveal the story of the Martian past and present. Yet we are still just in chapter one... even more riveting chapters will be read out by our robotic explorers in the next two decades. The excitement of Mars exploration was elevated last year when the President laid out a new vision for integrated robotic and human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Robotic science missions will extend our understanding of Mars while they lay the groundwork for human exploration - by making new discoveries, characterizing the environment, validating new capabilities, and emplacing the infrastructure that will enable safe and effective human missions. This roadmap outlines how NASA can build on its existing robotic Mars Exploration Program to enable future human expeditions to Mars. Our existing science priorities are highly complementary to the requirements for early human exploration precursors, centered on the "Follow the Water" theme. Technology development for robotic exploration paves the way for larger-scale human missions in key areas. Augmentation of existing plans and investments with complementary measurements and technology developments represents a logical, systematic approach to implementing the Vision for Space Exploration.

Executive Summary

The Vision for Space Exploration provides new impetus and specific goals for the nation's Mars exploration program. These have been adopted as NASA's strategic objectives and constitute the charter of the Mars roadmap:

  • Conduct robotic exploration of Mars
    • To search for evidence of life,
    • To understand the history of the solar system
    • To prepare for future human exploration.

  • Conduct human expeditions to Mars
    • After acquiring adequate knowledge about the planet using robotic missions
    • After successfully demonstrating sustained human exploration missions to the Moon.

Observations

The development of the Vision for Space Exploration has added a new dimension to a vibrant and highly successful Mars exploration program. The existing scientific objectives of Mars exploration can be seen in light of a long-range future that will ultimately lead to human exploration of the planet, fulfilling a centuries-old dream of humankind. The goals of the present robotic Mars exploration program are well aligned with the needs of future human exploration and will enable the nation to make wellinformed decisions regarding human mission capabilities, costs, risks, and priorities. New areas of emphasis should be added to the program, including:

  • Precursor measurements to characterize and assess Mars' environment to ensure human safety
  • Technologies responsive to the more demanding needs of human travel
  • Engineering infrastructure required for human safety and mission success

Human exploration of the Moon can provide important opportunities to verify and validate systems and processes for human Mars exploration. Within a few decades, we will be prepared to undertake an integrated robotic and human exploration program for detailed study of the planet Mars, leading to a new understanding of the evolution of the solar system and the development and evolution of life.

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