Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NASA's Mars Orbiter Turns 10th: What's Next for Mars Exploration?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NASA's Mars Orbiter Turns 10th: What's Next for Mars Exploration?

Article excerpt

NASA has been celebrating a number of Mars-related anniversaries this year, from the 50th anniversary of Mariner 4 flying past the Red Planet - the first spacecraft to successfully do so - to the 10- year anniversary of the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the orbital probe that continues to circle the planet, sending data back to researchers on Earth.

The current exploratory missions have enjoyed many recent triumphs. NASA's Curiosity rover - which landed on the planet on Aug. 6, 2012 in breathtaking, and terrifying fashion - has been sending back pictures of the planet's surface for years to its now two million Twitter followers. The rover celebrated its three-year anniversary on the planet earlier this month.

But what next for Mars exploration? More specifically, after 50 years of robotic exploration, when will human boots take the next great leap for mankind and land on the planet's dusty red surface?

On its website, NASA says it is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s - goals outlined in both the US National Space Policy, issued in 2010, and the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

"Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery," the agency says on its website. "Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet's history and future."

Furthermore, the agency adds, future exploration "could uncover evidence of life, answering one of the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos: Does life exist beyond Earth?"

In recent months NASA publicly repositioned its human exploration program as a series of stepping stones. First, the agency is conducting an ongoing mission in low-Earth orbit to study how the human body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health on long voyages into deep space. …

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