January 10, 2007 — NASA has selected a proposal by Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) and its partners to develop a concept study report for a future $475 million robotic orbiter mission to Mars. The proposal — called TGE or "The Great Escape" — is one of two finalists being considered by NASA for a Mars mission to be launched in 2011; the proposal includes plans for the development and flight of the science payload, spacecraft and launch vehicle. Partnering with SwRI are Orbital Sciences Corporation, the University of Michigan, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a host of other institutions.
In line with NASA's goal to gain a better understanding of Mars' atmosphere, climate, and potential habitability, the TGE mission aims to shed new light on the processes that caused Mars to evolve from its former wet and warm habitat to its current colder, dryer state. TGE will also examine certain aspects of the Martian environment critical to planning for future human exploration of the red planet.
"This is an exciting opportunity to advance Mars exploration for NASA by accomplishing important goals that have long been priorities in the scientific and exploration communities," says Dr. Alan Stern, executive director of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division and the principal investigator of TGE.
"The science addressed by TGE is fundamentally important to understanding the evolution of the Mars climate and is relevant to Earth climate studies at a time when climate issues are of paramount importance here on Earth," says Dr. Don Hassler, TGE deputy principal investigator and a manager in the SwRI Space Studies Department.
The TGE team will receive $2 million to conduct a nine-month feasibility study this year. In late 2007, NASA will select one of the two studies for full development as a Mars Scout mission.
"This mission will answer many of the questions researchers have about the complex Martian atmosphere," adds Dr. Jim Burch, vice president of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "It's immensely important to advancing our knowledge of the planet and, ultimately, of the solar system."
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars Exploration Office for the Mars Exploration Program of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.
For more information contact Maria Stothoff at (210) 522-3305, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.