Mars exploration; where do we stand; what to expect? Pierre Brisson , President of the Mars Society switzerland. President Obama’s administration has proposed a NASA budget for 2013 which is drastically cutting into the funding of Mars exploration. In fact what is left is only tails of operation initiated under President Georges W. Bush administration. According to this policy there should be no mission beyond MAVEN, slated for the next launch window in 2013. Even NASA participation in ExoMars which was planned as a joint venture with ESA is cancelled (which jeopardizes the whole mission as the American where to provide the launchers). Replacement could come from the Russians (Roscosmos) but their capacity to reach Mars and to land on Mars is somewhat questionable. Hope for further progress in the knowledge of our sister planet is therefore suspended to a reversal of the American policy (the budget proposal of President Obama is still to be voted by Congress; alternatively, a new Administration could decide a different policy). Meanwhile MSL is progressing satisfactorily towards Mars with about 40% of the trip already done. The arrival scheduled for August 6th, following the new EDL process involving the famous “sky crane”, will be a “first” and should be spectacular. Science to be expected from the 75 kg of instruments (cameras, spectrometers, environmental sensors, atmospheric sensors, radiations detectors, on board laboratories) will allow a renewed approach to the many questions still to be answered about the geological history of the planet. The new environment chosen for the landing (sedimentary rocks of the Gale Crater, including phillosilicates) being the testimony of past longstanding body of liquid water, should offer the proper ground for essential findings (which in turn might influence the American policy).
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Pierre Brisson