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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Heavy traffic heads for Mars
New Mars crafts Nasa
Some of the crafts Nasa plans to land on mars
The American space agency Nasa has outlined ambitious, long-term plans to explore the planet Mars.

Nasa says six major missions will take place in little more than 10 years, with Italy and France also participating.


We plan to 'follow the water' so that we may finally know the answers to the most far-reaching questions about the Red Planet: Did life ever arise there, and does life exist there now?

Dr Ed Weiler, Nasa's associate administrator for space science
At an annual cost estimated at between $400 million to $450 million a year for the next five years, the agency will despatch a combination of orbiting spacecraft and landers to the Red Planet. Then, after 2010, the agency will undertake a mission to bring back samples from Mars.

Last year, Nasa lost two Martian missions: the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter. The failures were a huge blow to agency morale and prompted a major review of the way Nasa carries through its space operations.

Long-term programme

New Mars strategy
2001: Mars orbiter launched
2003: Launch of two rovers to explore Mars' surface
2005: A scientific orbiter to develop Mars Global Surveyor's programme
2007: Planned dispatch of a 'smart lander'
2011: Mission to retrieve samples form Mars' surface
"We have developed a campaign to explore Mars unparalleled in the history of space exploration. It's meant to be a robust, flexible, long-term program that will give us the highest chances for success," Mars programme director Scott Hubbard said.

Another Nasa official said the new programme would be a watershed in the history of Mars exploration.

Dr Ed Weiler, Nasa's associate administrator for space science said that the new strategy aimed to answer questions about Mars' mineralogy, geology and climate history.

He said: "We plan to 'follow the water' so that in the not too distant future we may finally know the answers to the most far-reaching questions about the red planet we humans have asked over the generations: Did life ever arise there, and does life exist there now?"

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