We should head to Mars as a united Planet Earth

The success of the Mars Science Laboratory shows that it’s time for a real multi-national mission to the Red Planet, say Artemis Westenberg and Chris Carberry.

By Artemis Westenberg and Chris Carberry

12:58PM BST 25 Oct 2012


A multinational science mission landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is the most ambitious mission ever sent to another planet and it is searching for indicators that life may have (or still does) existed on Mars. Even if it is led by Nasa, with hardware and capabilities provided from all over the world, including Spain, Russia, France, and Canada, this Mars mission can truly be called an international mission.

Sadly, Mars has been the source of recent tension between spaceagencies in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Earlier this year, the United States announced that it was stepping back from participation in the European Space Agency ExoMars missions of 2016 and 2018. Regardless of the reasons for this decision, the concept of doing joint international Mars missions should not be abandoned.

On the contrary, the international community should seize the launch window in 2018 and plan a robotic mission that will move us dramatically closer to the goal of a Mars Sample Return mission. If Nasa, ESA, Russia, and other space agencies work together, a major mission can be accomplished – one that will be a significant follow-up to Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory. MSR has been a goal for both Nasa and ESA for many years and a sample return mission was also a clear mission preference in the recent report by Nasa’s Mars Program Planning Group.

A science mission partnership like this has been achieved before: the International Space Station partnership that has served that science workplace well for over a decade now. The same spirit of co-operation could serve as a model for the next Mars mission. Of course, the ISS partnership has not been perfect and, over the past two decades, many people even have pointed to it as the way not to conduct space missions. However, it has held firm despite these criticisms, as well as political, budgetary, and technical challenges. In fact, it is highly likely that ISS would have been cancelled years ago, were it for the fact that it is a multinational effort. ISS has provided a sustainable model based not only on shared costs and labour, but also on international agreements that are not as easily abandoned as an exploration program based exclusively in one single nation. We believe that this partnership – or a new partnership based on the ISS model – could be used for major new Mars science missions, culminating in human exploration.

Unquestionably there is interest in international missions to Mars. At the recent Mars500 Symposium in Moscow, as well as the ISS and Mars Conference in Strasbourg, participants from around the world showed that there is significant (and growing) international interest in Mars exploration.

Artemis Westenberg and Chris Carberry are the president and executive director of Explore Mars, Inc respectively

The above article was published in The Telegraph on October 25, 2012.

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