* New rover may collect samples for return to Earth
* U.S. pulled out of European Mars campaign
By Irene Klotz
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 4 NASA plans to follow-up its
Mars rover Curiosity mission with a duplicate rover that could
collect and store samples for return to Earth, the agency's lead
scientist said on Tuesday.
The new rover will use spare parts and engineering models
developed for Curiosity, which is four months into a planned
$2.5 billion, two-year mission on Mars to look for habitats that
could have supported microbial life.
Replicating the rover's chassis, sky-crane landing system
and other gear will enable NASA to cut the cost of the new
mission to about $1.5 billion, John Grunsfeld, the U.S. space
agency's associate administrator for science, said at the
American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.
Budget shortfalls forced NASA to pull out of a series of
joint missions with Europe, designed to return rock and soil
samples from Mars in the 2020s. Europe instead will partner with
Russia for the launch vehicle and other equipment that was to
have been provided by NASA.
Grunsfeld said NASA will provide a key organics experiment
for Europe's ExoMars rover, as well as engineering and mission
support under the agency's proposed budget for the year
beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
Details about what science instruments would be included on
the new rover, whether or not it would have a cache for samples,
and the landing site have not yet been determined.
NASA plans to set up a team of scientists to refine plans
for the rover and issue a solicitation next summer.
The National Academy of Sciences last year ranked a Mars
sample return mission as its top priority in planetary science
for the next decade.
"The (science) community already has come forward with a
very clear message about what the content of the next Mars
surface mission should be, and that is to cache the samples that
will come back to Earth," said Steve Squyres with Cornell
"That's really a necessary part of having this mission," he
(Editing by Tom Brown and Stacey Joyce)