As NASA’s Curiosity rover begins its exploration of Gale Crater, it’s time for NASA and policy makers in Washington to consider how to best organize future missions, robotic and human, to the Red Planet.
(credit: NASA/JPL)

Is it time to create a Mars Exploration Mission Directorate?

by Chris Carberry
Monday, October 15, 2012

The Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) reviewed over 400 proposals earlier this year aimed at continuing our highly successful Mars Exploration Program. MPPG released a summary of its report on September 25 (the full report will be released soon) that provides several options for Mars exploration in the next decade.

The most significant aspect of the MPPG may not be the potential missions that it outlines, but rather that it represents a more coordinated approach to Mars exploration than many previous mission planning exercises. Specifically, the MPPG was designed to coordinate the efforts of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), as well as with the Offices of the Chief Technologist and the Chief Scientist. Coordination of this kind is essential for the future of Mars exploration.

Perhaps the time has come to contemplate the creation of a Mars Exploration Mission Directorate or at least some kind of mechanism to formalize a coordinated Mars exploration effort. If our policy is to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, we should pursue Mars exploration in as unified a manner as possible. Such an approach can create efficiencies that could save money in both the short and long term by ensuring that missions support one another, similar to how Mercury and Gemini missions supported Apollo goals.

Read more: The Space Review: Is it time to create a Mars Exploration Mission Directorate?.

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