Still reeling from the failure of its two most recent missions to Mars, NASA announced late last month that it would delay by nearly a decade plans to bring back samples from the Red Planet. According to the new strategy, the agency may not launch its first sample-return mission until 2014. That means Mars material won’t be delivered to Earth until 2016, 8 years later than the agency had originally proposed (SN: 4/25/98, p. 265: https://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arc98/4_25_98/bob1.htm).
NASA said it would use the extra time to send missions that will scope out favorable landing spots for landers retrieving samples and create new relay stations to improve communication with those craft. The agency had earlier announced that it would launch the Mars Odyssey orbiter in 2001 and two craft in 2003 that would travel on the surface. Under the new plan, NASA will also send aloft, in 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This craft will look for signs of water in Mars’ past by scanning the planet’s surface at a resolution fine enough to image rocks the size of beach balls.
An orbiting laboratory, designed to further study the surface and determine the best strategy for landings, could go up as early as 2007. In addition, a new, smaller line of orbiters and landers could be ready in 2007.