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What will future Mars missions look like?

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Mars planners are assessing international partnerships that could be highly enabling, especially as exploration activities become increasingly complex. Such partnerships could be at the mission or instrument level, and they could involve scientists from around the globe. [Boldest Mars Missions in History]

The June get-together of Mars experts made a strong case that missions flown in the coming decade could yield realistic steps toward Mars Sample Return. That pathway also would push advances in our understanding of Mars and certify key technologies that can lead to a humans-to-Mars initiative.

For example, work is under way to develop inflatable heat shields and larger parachutes.

“These will be tested in a program about a year from now,” said Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here.

“You’ll see that in this Mars Program Planning Group output,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

“They are looking at mixing technology with increasing capability over time … leading up to putting larger things on the surface,” Grunsfeld said. Adopting those technologies would help put objects even larger than the 1-ton Curiosity rover on Mars, he told SPACE.com.

Less expensive Mars probes are also on NASA’s agenda.

And there’s no lack of ideas. Gliders and balloons, ground-thumping penetrators, deep drilling platforms, slinky robot snakes, and even sensor-laden tumbleweed-like vehicles are on the table. Toss into the mix an assortment of Mars orbiters to perform a variety of tasks, such as sniffing out traces of biologically produced methane.

No gimmicks on Mars

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