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Saturday, December 22, 2007

NASA has delayed the launching of a mission to Mars by two years, to 2013

Mars Shot Is Put Off for 2 Years, NASA Says

NASA has delayed the launching of a mission to Mars by two years, to 2013, because of an undisclosed conflict of interest involved in one of two final proposals, officials said Friday.

Postponing the Mars Scout program mission means that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will miss an opportunity to launch a flight to Mars for the first time in more than a decade, Doug McCuistion, director of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program, said at a news conference.

Mars and Earth only get close enough to efficiently launch explorations every 26 months.

After reducing 26 mission proposals to two, and entering an evaluation period this fall to select a winner, Mr. McCuistion said an unspecified conflict of interest arose concerning one proposal and the assessment group.

Resolving the conflict, the nature of which Mr. McCuistion said he could not discuss, required disbanding the review panel and forming a new one. This process, he said, in setting back a selection by at least four months, meant that keeping to the original launching date would put undue cost and schedule pressure on the winner.

“Delaying the next Scout mission is allowing the mission planning teams to re-plan their proposed missions,” he said. “It will also reduce the risk of cost overruns driven by the tight mission schedule.”

The teams, one at the University of Colorado and the other from the Southwest Research Institute branch in Boulder, Colo., have until August 2008 to submit their new proposals. NASA will make a final selection next December.

Both groups are proposing similar spacecraft to orbit Mars and study why the planet’s thin atmosphere is escaping into space. The five-year, $475 million mission is part of the Scout program to send missions with relatively modest costs to regularly explore Mars. Mr. McCuistion said the delay could add as much as $40 million to the cost of the mission.

In other news concerning Mars, NASA said Friday that a recently discovered asteroid that appeared on course to hit the planet would probably pass it within 30,000 miles. The asteroid, estimated to be about 164 feet wide and named 2007 WD5, should zoom by about 6 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2008, the announcement said.

Uncertainties about the asteroid’s orbit gives it a 1-in-75 chance of hitting Mars, scientists said. If it were to hit, it would strike at about 30,000 miles per hour and create a crater more than a half-mile wide.

Human Mars Mission Could Cost $450 BillionOn their way to Mars, the astronauts will grow their own fruit and vegetables, and once they arrive, they will spend 16 months there.
NASA has revealed details of its strategy to send a human crew to Mars in the next few decades.

NASA predicts that the crew will embark on a journey that will last 30 months, in a spacecraft that will weigh 400,000 kilograms.

NASA released all of its plans at a meeting in Houston. In January 2004, US president George W. Bush launched a program that would return people to the moon by 2020, and said that there are also plans to send people to Mars.

The ship that will travel to Mars will be assembled in earth orbit, and will use three or four Ares V rockets – new launch vehicles that NASA has been developing for quite some time.

The best strategy

The journey from Earth to Mars would last six to eight months, and the ship will be propelled by cryogenic fuel.

NASA estimates that the mission could cost up to 450 billion US dollars.

The details that the agency provided are subject to change, but scientists currently consider it the best strategy on placing humans on the surface of Mars.

The cargo carrier and “houses” for life on Mars will be sent separately, and will be launched before the crew that should land between December 2028 and January 2029.

Growing fruit and vegetables in the spacecraft

On their way to Mars, the astronauts will grow their own fruit and vegetables in the spacecraft, and one they arrive, they will spend 16 months on the red planet. They will use nuclear power for energy in their “homes”.

Getting extra supplies of food will be extremely limited, and the astronauts will have tools for basic repairs. The spacecraft will be equipped with special systems that will gather water and air in case the crew’s lives are in danger.

The plants that the crew will plant and care about, besides food, will have the purpose of contributing to its psychological health.

NASA still needs to think of a solution to protect the astronauts against strong cosmic radiation that they will be exposed to in deep space, as well as when they are on the surface of Mars.

The crew will have medical equipment in the case of sickness or injury, which will be tested on the moon beforehand, writes BBC.

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