NASA’s Plan for Mars Makes the Old New Again

Curiosity’s photographs its own shadow in Sol 12 of the MSL mission. If NASA’s new plan sticks, we should see the same shot from Curiosity 2.0 in 2020 or 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL

Yesterday, NASA announced a bold new plan of exploration for the coming decade on Mars. It’s exciting. I love plans that include a methodical exploration of other worlds that will help answer the bigger questions out there, like why Mars developed into such a different world than the other inner bodies. But looking a little closer at what few details the agency’s released, it looks less like a concrete plan with a goal and more of a bid to capitalize on Curiosity’s unexpected fame. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just sort of an odd thing. [Read more…]

Reducing, Recycling, and Reusing on Mars

An artist’s concept of the Phoenix lander landing. Landers with retrorockets, a tried and true technology for landing on Mars. Credit: NASA

Two weeks ago, NASA announced it’s next Discovery class mission, those low cost missions that focus on answering one question. The agency chose the InSight mission to Mars. In the press conference, the agency cited the mission’s low cost and relatively low risk as the rationale behind its selection. But this sparked a weird backlash. NASA didn’t exactly say why the mission was more likely to fly under its $425 million cost cap, and some news outlets in the days following the announcement suggested that there were hidden costs in a mission. Specifically that the technology reused from previous missions was a hidden cost. The fact is NASA has been reusing technology and old test data on Mars since the 1960s, and not starting from scratch each time keeps overall mission costs down. Here’s my full article on Discover’s The Crux blog.