Contact: At JPL, Mary Hardin (818) 354-0344
         At NASA Headquarters, Don Savage (202) 358-1727

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                  October 26, 2000


      By means of orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions,
NASA's revamped campaign to explore Mars, announced today, is poised to
unravel the secrets of the red planet's past environments, the history of
its rocks, the many roles of water and, possibly, evidence of past or
present life.

      Six major missions are planned in this decade as part of a scientific
tapestry that will weave a tale of new understanding of Earth's sometimes
enigmatic and surprising neighbor.

      The missions are part of a long-term Mars exploration program which
has been developed over the past six months. The new program incorporates
the lessons learned from previous mission successes and failures, and builds
on scientific discoveries from past missions. The NASA-led effort to define
the program well into the next decade focused on the science goals,
management strategies, technology development and resource availability in
an effort to design and implement missions which would be successful and
provide a balanced program of discoveries. International participation,
especially from Italy and France, will add significantly to the plan. The
next step will be an 18-month programmatic systems engineering study to
refine the costs and technology needs.

      In addition to the previously announced 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter
mission and the twin Mars Exploration Rovers in 2003, NASA plans to launch a
powerful scientific orbiter in 2005. This mission, the Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter, will focus on analyzing the surface at new scales in an effort to
follow the tantalizing hints of water from the Mars Global Surveyor images
and to bridge the gap between surface observations and measurements from
orbit. For example, the Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of
Martian landscapes at 20-to-30-centimeters (8-to-12-inch) resolution, good
enough to observe rocks the size of beach balls.

      NASA proposes to develop and to launch a long-range, long- duration
mobile science laboratory that will be a major leap in surface measurements
and pave the way for a future sample return mission. NASA is studying
options to launch this mobile science laboratory mission as early as 2007.
This capability will also demonstrate the technology for accurate landing
and hazard avoidance in order to reach what may be very promising but
difficult-to-reach scientific sites.

      NASA also proposes to create a new line of small "Scout" missions that
would be selected from proposals from the science community, and might
involve airborne vehicles or small landers, as an investigation platform.
Exciting new vistas could be opened up by this approach either through the
airborne scale of observation or by increasing the number of sites visited.
The first Scout mission launch is planned for 2007.

      In the second decade, NASA plans additional science orbiters, rovers
and landers, and the first mission to return the most promising Martian
samples to Earth. Current plans call for the first sample return mission to
be launched in 2014 and a second in 2016. Options which would significantly
increase the rate of mission launch and/or accelerate the schedule of
exploration are under study, including launching the first sample return
mission as early as 2011. Technology development for advanced capabilities
such as miniaturized surface science instruments and deep drilling to
several hundred feet will also be carried out in this period.

      Mars missions can be launched every 26 months during advantageous
alignments -- called launch opportunities -- of the Earth and Mars, which
facilitate the minimum amount of fuel needed to make the long trip.

      The agency's Mars Exploration Program envisions significant
international participation, particularly by France and Italy. In
cooperation with NASA, the French and Italian Space Agencies plan to conduct
collaborative scientific orbital and surface investigations and to make
other major contributions to sample collection/return systems,
telecommunications assets and launch services. Other nations also have
expressed interest in participating in the program.

      "We have developed a campaign to explore Mars unparalleled in the
history of space exploration. It will change and adapt over time in response
to what we find with each mission. It's meant to be a robust, flexible,
long-term program that will give us the highest chances for success," said
Scott Hubbard, Mars Program Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.
"We're moving from the early era of global mapping and limited surface
exploration to a much more intensive approach. We will establish a sustained
presence in orbit around Mars and on the surface with long-duration
exploration of some of the most scientifically promising and intriguing
places on the planet."

      "The scientific strategy developed for the new program is that of
first seeking the most compelling places from above, before moving to the
surface to investigate Mars," said Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA Mars Exploration
Program Scientist at Headquarters. "The new program offers opportunities for
competitively selected instruments and investigations at every step, and
endeavors to keep the public informed on each mission via higher bandwidth
telecommunication on the web."

      "NASA's new Mars Exploration Program may well prove to be a watershed
in the history of Mars exploration," said Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA's Associate
Administrator for Space Science. "With this new strategy, we're going to dig
deep into the details of Mars' mineralogy, geology and climate history in a
way we've never been able to do before. We also plan to 'follow the water'
so that in the not-to-distant future we may finally know the answers to the
most far-reaching questions about the red planet we humans have asked over
the generations: Did life ever arise there, and does life exist there now?"

      JPL manages the Mars Exploration Program for NASA's Office of Space
Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.

Images of the Mars Exploration Program can be downloaded at:
An animation of the Mars 'Smart' Lander can be downloaded at:
(Quicktime 4.0 plugin required)


#2000-104 mah