TABLE 3.1 The Mars Architecture and Its Responsiveness to the Goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

Mars Exploration Architecture

Goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program




Human Exploration

Accomplishments to date and next steps

Highest priority: establishing that life is or was present on Mars, or, if life never was present, understanding why not; distribution and history of water; sources of biologically usable energy; composition, states, and reservoirs of C, N, S, O, H, and P

Climate change as a central theme; history and process; emphasis on process

None identified in reporta

None identified in reporta

Improved knowledge to date

Liquid water has been present and weathered the crust; crust complex and diverse with early sustained hydrological cycle, episodic volcanic eruptions, and climate cycles driven by obliquity; putative observation of methane

Primary progress has been from the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, the Mars Orbiter Camera, and the radio science from Mars Global Surveyor; seasonal cycles of dust, temperature, and water discerned; boundary layer observations are not complete; upper atmosphere only sparsely sampled; vertical mixing and trace gas loss rates not yet examined

Geological evolution of planet from previous missions and current MER rovers; geological diversity and complex evolution; dynamo early in planet’s history and volcanic emissions may have helped provide active hydrothermal systems; previous beds under salty groundwater identified; chemistry bounds deduced on hydrological cycle on surface; possible relation to long-term orbital obliquity changes

Risks to humans can be mitigated through precursor scientific investigations (~20 identified), with four having high priority: water accessibility near landing site, wind shear and turbulence effects on landing, martian life effects on Earth’s biosphere, and adverse effects of dust on mission hardware; also level of radiation exposure, but technical development and flight systems on hold due to fiscal constraints

Potential outcomes of near-term investigations

May find water and/or ice reservoirs; may discover more biologically significant landing sites

Most promise from MRO observations, lower atmosphere in greater detail; landed spacecraft will likely not constrain boundary-layer processes; surface- atmosphere aerosol fluxes will remain beyond observation; high latitudes of unique importance

MRO to provide identification of sites with mineralogical evidence of habitability, and ground-penetrating radar may find evidence of groundwater and subsurface ice; Phoenix to characterize chemistry, mineralogy, and isotopic composition of evolved gases in subsurface soils and ices; MSL to provide detailed exploration of potential habitable site identified from orbit

Phoenix for evaluation of accessibility of water at high latitudes; MRO for maps of atmospheric properties; need both long-and short-term atmospheric state and variability; MSL for effects of dust on landed systems; landed mass increase from 0.2 to 1.5 metric tons; MSL for addressing human health

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement