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CNN Today

NASA Announces Scaled-Down Mars Program

Aired October 26, 2000 - 2:47 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: NASA announces a scaled-down Mars campaign following the expensive loss of two spacecraft last year.

For the latest on the Mars project, we go to CNN's John Zarrella in Miami. Where else?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Hey, Lou.

Well, the NASA program that we used to be so familiar with, "faster, better, cheaper," when it comes to Mars exploration, throw that out the window. One NASA official is now saying that the new Mars program will emphasize some things. It includes things like, "something old, something new, something borrowed," and something bold.

The whole idea is to put together a real Mars program, no longer just a collection of individual missions. In the future, Mars landing missions will be spread out every four years so that NASA can build upon the previous missions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. EDWARD WEILER, NASA ASSOC. ADMINISTRATOR: We have to assume that Mars will continue to surprise us. We're launching an orbiter mission to Mars next spring. We're launching two Rover missions to Mars in 2003. I have a feeling those missions may uncover something that we brilliant humans haven't thought of yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: In the year 2001, NASA will launch an orbiter; 2003, twin landers; 2005, another very sophisticated orbiter; and then in 2007, plans for what's called a "smart lander." This smart lander, as you can see there, will be able to pick its own landing site. It will have a collision avoidance system, and NASA will be testing many new technologies with this particular lander.

Now, one of the big hits that's going to be taken in the Mars program is what would have been the piece de resistance of the Mars science robotic missions, and that would have been the sample return mission that was scheduled for the year 2005 liftoff, where they would send a vehicle to Mars, it would pick up samples of the Martian surface, then return those samples on another spacecraft back to Earth. That will not happen now until, the earliest, the year 2011. And that depends on how well all of these other missions leading up to that go. But no earlier now than leaving Earth in 2011, a three-year trip, 2014 or '15 before it would get back.

Now, the redesigned, streamlined, more efficient NASA program for Mars exploration is the result of what happened about a year ago, back in October and then again in December, when two Mars spacecraft were lost. First it was an orbiter and then the Polar Lander, which was not heard from after it descended to the South Pole of Mars. After a seventh-month intensive study and investigation into what happened, and a study of the program itself, the NASA Mars program, this is now the result, this new program, which is going to emphasize more science and less mission-driven program.

But what they're saying is -- they're not saying when men will go to Mars or humans will go to Mars. This program has nothing to do with that. In the past, it was a buildup to human exploration. That's not even being discussed now. But "cheaper, better, faster" is clearly out in this new program.

NASA also experienced another major success, though, today with robotic exploration. Two images returned from NEAR, the Near-Earth Asteroid observatory which is up there and orbiting the Eros satellite, taking the best-ever pictures of a near-Earth asteroid.

So much going on with NASA. In the future, more with Mars.

This is John Zarrella, reporting live from Miami -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, John.

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