‘Have a good idea about Mars exploration? We’d like to hear about it.’ That tweet came from NASA’s John Grunsfeld who, in light of some humbling budget cuts coming in 2013, is helping the space agency cast a wider net when it comes to attracting new ideas. The new Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) wants ideas from researchers, government and industry for how to reach Mars cheaply. “This is a two-way capability open to anyone,” said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “We want to hear from anyone who has an idea, not just the establishment.”
What’s the Big Idea?
NASA’s goals for Mars is to move towards having a human presence around the planet in 2030s. Due to expected budget cuts, however, NASA has already pulled out of two European-led missions to the Red Planet planned for 2016 and 2018. “The MPPG is reluctant to speculate about what form the new missions will take, including whether they will begin with an orbiter or a lander, but the hope is to begin launching no later than 2020.” The agency currently has two Mars missions in progress: The rover Curiosity is expected to touch down on the Red Planet in August and the orbiter MAVEN is scheduled for launch next year.