The Mars Environmental Compatibility Assessment (MECA) was one of two experiments chosen by NASA this month from a field of 39 proposals for instruments to perform studies that will benefit eventual human exploration of the red planet.
MECA will analyze the dust and soil of Mars to investigate potential hazards to human explorers. The instrument will examine dust and soil using an optical microscope provided by the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy in Germany and the University of Arizona.
In the experiment, soil will be mixed with water carried aboard the spacecraft to investigate such topics as the acidity or alkalinity of the soil; potential for oxidation; electrical conductivity; and the presence of potentially toxic dissolved ions on Mars. The experiment will also monitor the charge buildup on the instrument's digging arm to learn about electrostatic buildup.
The 2001 Mars missions represent the first step in an agency initiative to fly experiments supporting NASA's Human Exploration and Development of Space program on robotic exploration missions carried out by NASA's Office of Space Science. The 2001 lander is scheduled to launch in April 2001, while its companion orbiter spacecraft is set to launch approximately one month earlier.
NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications sponsors MECA. Dr. Michael Hecht of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is project manager, Dr. Thomas Meloy of West Virginia University is principal investigator and John Marshall of NASA's Ames Research Laboratory is deputy principal investigator.
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
November 6, 1997
The Mars Surveyor 2001 missions will follow two other robotic Mars missions to be launched in late 1998 and early 1999. All are part of NASA's long-term, systematic exploration of Mars in which two missions are launched to the planet approximately every 26 months.
"The Mars 2001 missions will be a major step forward in advancing our understanding of Mars and preparing to return samples," said Dr. Carl Pilcher, acting director for NASA's Solar System Exploration program. "When we combine the information from the 2001 missions with information from Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the missions we will launch to Mars in 1998 and 1999, we will have an excellent understanding of the planet as a whole, and we'll be well on the way toward investigating the most fascinating and scientifically intriguing surface sites in detail."
NASA's Office of Space Science has selected the following investigations for the Mars 2001 Orbiter, due for launch in March of that year, and the Mars 2001 Lander/Rover, due for launch in April:
These investigations were selected from of a total of 39 proposals submitted to NASA in August 1997 in response to Anouncement of Opportunity (AO) -97-OSS-04, "Mars Surveyor Program 2001 Orbiter, Lander, Rover Missions: Science Investigations and Characterization of Environments," issued in June 1997.
The 2001 Orbiter will be the first to use the atmosphere of Mars to slow down and directly capture a spacecraft into orbit in one step, using a technique called aerocapture.
The Orbiter also will carry the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS), the last of the remaining Mars Observer science investigations. The GRS will achieve global mapping of the elemental composition of the surface and the abundance of hydrogen in the shallow subsurface.
The AO also solicited soil, dust, and radiation investigations for the Mars 2001 mission. NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications will announce its decisions for these investigations at a later date.
An integrated team consisting of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO, will develop the missions, led by JPL.
Both of the 2001 missions are part of an ongoing NASA series of robotic Mars exploration spacecraft that began with the launches of the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter and the Mars Pathfinder lander in November and December 1996, respectively.
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
March 25, 1997
"For the first time since the 1960s, NASA's space science and human space flight programs are cooperating directly on the exploration of another planetary body," said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress Jr., NASA associate administrator for space science. "Mars is a challenging destination for any type of spacecraft to reach, and it makes a great deal of sense for us to pursue the maximum possible return of knowledge from any chance to go there."
"This joint effort is a sign that NASA is acquiring the information that will be needed for a national decision, perhaps in a decade or so, on whether or not to send humans to Mars," said Wilbur Trafton, associate administrator for space flight. "Early in the next century, once the International Space Station is deployed and operating, the question of our next major goal in human space flight will come up. This partnership is a major step toward ensuring that we have the information needed to answer that question."
NASA intends to launch two separate spacecraft to Mars, a small orbiter and a small lander, in March and April 2001, respectively.
The Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander will deliver a small, advanced technology rover capable of traveling several tens of miles across the Martian highlands. The rover will be able to collect rock and soil samples for later return to Earth by a future robotic mission.
Under the new internal NASA agreement, the 2001 Lander will now also be a platform for instruments and technology experiments designed to provide key insights to decisions regarding successful and cost-effective human missions to Mars. Hardware on the lander will be used for an in-situ demonstration test of rocket propellant production using gases in the Martian atmosphere. Other equipment will characterize the planet's soil properties and surface radiation environment.
"Before we can send humans into deep space, we need to understand the nature of the space environment and its effect on living systems," said Arnauld Nicogossian, M.D., acting associate administrator for life and microgravity sciences. "The Mars 2001 mission will give us invaluable information about the radiation environment of space and the surface on Mars."
Analyses of Martian dust and soil are necessary to understand any interactions with the systems currently planned that will supply the habitation and working environment for future human explorers.
A companion mission to the lander known as the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter will be launched in March 2001. The 2001 Orbiter will be the first to use the atmosphere of Mars to slow down and directly capture the spacecraft into orbit, in a technique called aerocapture. The scientific objectives of the mission are to conduct mineralogical mapping of the entire planet and characterize its orbital radiation environment. The 2001 Orbiter also will carry a radio relay to support the lander and a possible Russian robotic rover mission.
The preliminary cost estimate for both integrated missions is approximately $311 million, not including launch costs. An integrated team of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA; the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX; and Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, will develop the missions, led by JPL.
Both of the 2001 missions are part of an ongoing NASA series of robotic Mars exploration spacecraft that began with the launches of the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter and the Mars Pathfinder lander in November and December 1996, respectively. Mars Pathfinder and its 25-pound rover, named Sojourner, landed on Mars in a region called Ares Vallis on July 4, 1997.