By the MEPAG Human Exploration of Mars Science Analysis Group
January 31, 2008 Review Copy
Mars will remain an attractive destination for science for decades to come and the pace of discoveries about the workings of the Red Planet could be dramatically accelerated by means of human-based exploration at any time it becomes possible.
In the context of a set of three initial human expeditions to Mars at some time beyond the current event horizon (i.e., in ~25 years, meaning 2030s or 2040s), a team of experienced planetary scientists with diverse scientific backgrounds has analyzed scientific priorities and scenarios for such missions, under the overarching precept that scientific discovery is a major aspect of such missions.
The Human Exploration of Mars Scientific Analysis Group (HEM-SAG) derived human science reference missions using constraints provided by engineers affiliated with the 2007 Mars Architecture Team (B. Drake et al., NASA JSC) as well as the current scientific priorities for Mars exploration summarized in the 2007 MEPAG Goals and Objectives reference document as well as recent National Academy of Sciences Solar System Decadal Survey recommendations (New Frontiers, NRC, 2003).
After initial evaluation of the state of knowledge about Mars today (circa 2007), the HEM-SAG projected this state of knowledge forward to ~2030, under the assumption that a robotic Mars sample return mission must be accomplished prior to Human scientific activities on the martian surface. The HEM-SAG concluded that in any science-driven or science-guided program of human exploration, each of three baselined human missions must visit independent and distinct "exploration sites" for maximal periods of time, as dictated by the realities of flight dynamics and celestial mechanics.
Thus, the overarching conclusion of the HEM-SAG is for three human exploration missions to scientifically (i.e, in terms of surface age of materials and scientific problem focus) target different regions for periods of up to 500 days on the surface, enabled by means of moderate-to-long range human mobility (100's of km) and multi-100m scale subsurface access. Scientific priorities at the time of the first HEM missions (2030s or 2040s) would likely remain similar to those of today, in spite of major progress underway from the current US and International robotic Mars programs (NASA's MEP, ESA's science programme).
In addition, there are "pass-backs" from what we need to be able to accomplish on Mars for science that could be validated and optimized via human exploration activities on the Moon, including unique aspects of sample acquisition and handling, in situ characterization, deep subsurface access, and long-range surface mobility, potentially with pressurized human roving vehicles. Mars, in the view of the HEM-SAG, represents an ideal target for intensive human-based and enabled surface scientific operations for the next 50 years.