Even as the Curiosity Mars rover was still testing its equipment in preparation for its surface mission, NASA has unveiled plans for another unmanned mission to Mars. Is the agency playing favorites?
NASA unveiled plans this week for a brand-new mission to Mars in 2016, even as its newest rover was just settling in on the Red Planet. But space agency officials say it's not a case of Red Planet favoritism.
On Monday (Aug. 20), NASA announced that its next low-budget exploration effort will launch a lander called InSight to Mars in 2016 to investigate the Red Planet's interior. InSight's selection comes barely two weeks after the agency's $2.5 billion Curiosity rover touched down inside Mars' huge Gale Crater.
NASA's golf-cart-size Opportunity rover is still cruising around the Red Planet more than eight years after it landed with its twin, Spirit. And the space agency has two orbiters — Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — actively observing the planet from above.
No other planet has received nearly this much attention in recent years. But NASA isn't too narrowly focused, officials said.
"We still have an extremely broad portfolio of missions, you know, heading out into the solar system now — for instance, Juno on its way to Jupiter, Osiris-Rex being worked in preparation for its mission to an asteroid," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, told reporters Monday. "And so I think we've shown very broad diversity in past selections."
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