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What are some of the future planetary missions that NASA has planned in its continued exploration of the solar system?
Barry Fried
John Dewey High School

Every two years we have an opportunity to visit the red planet. We have put together a program that is following the water through this decade. Evidence where water may have been persistent on the surface of Mars. Now that we are about to complete the science campaign of the Mars Exploration Rovers we start getting ready for what is next. The next step will be to start gathering more orbit reconnaissance data to help us pick the most compelling sites to find where the evidence of life may be or was some time in the future. In 2005 we are going to be launch a mission called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter just like we did the Mars Exploration Rovers. They are going to take about nine months or so to get to the Red Planet. Once they get to the planet it is going to start slowing itself down using the atmosphere in a process we call aerobraking. The atmosphere slows us down to the point where we can get to the science orbit that we want to be at. We have an unprecedented set of instruments on board that will allow us to look very, very in fine detail what's on the surface on Mars all from orbit. Also the composition of what we see on the surface of Mars in much greater detail than we can do now. We will also study the climate and atmosphere in great detail. This is helping us build an inventory of what the best places to go are. In 2007 we're going to the northern latitude with a static lander. A lander that will take us to the surface in a place where we know is very rich with ice. That is water in the form of ice that is frozen under the surface. It will help us to study the weather at this location, the climate. It will also carry instrumentation that can do chemistry analysis of the soil and the surface of Mars in this location we believe is very ice rich. This is very important because we can now start looking for evidence of carbon compounds or organics. Once again indicative of life in the environment in places where some of the key ingredients where life can exist. In 2009 we will be ready to send to the surface of Mars an analytical laboratory. A laboratory that will have instruments and go much beyond those that we have on the Mars Exploration Rovers. A big job for a big laboratory that we hope will be enabled by nuclear power and will have the ability to move around and be very selective as to the soils and rocks that it studies and brings them on board, helps us analyze in detail about the composition is and especially to answer the question of life. In 2013 we will be ready to go to the surface of Mars to gather carefully selected samples of rocks soil, put them in a hermetically sealed container, bring them to the surface, and head back home so we can study them in Earth's laboratory. From there now we're ready to expand into exploration to get ready for humans to visit Mars. Before we can get to that stage we of course have to learn a great deal about the safety of the environment and develop the technologies and capabilities that are necessary to support that endeavor. For a high-risk mission we need to learn a great deal about the radiation environment how to protect the astronauts and take care of them on a trip that would last several months. Once they get to the surface we get to experience real time what the environment of Mars may be like. Conduct scientific investigations in great detail. Start to set up stations that would allow us to extend the stay on the Red Planet and head back home.
Orlando Figueroa
Solar System Exploration Division