Mars Scout mission delayed till 2013 due to conflict of interest

December 22nd, 2007 - 1:34 pm ICT by admin  

London, Dec 22 (ANI): NASAs next Scout mission to Mars in 2011 would now be delayed by 2 years due to a conflict of interest between one of the two proposing teams and the panel set up to evaluate them.

Though Doug McCuistion, Mars exploration program director, declined to say who or what was involved in the conflict, he did mention that it was a mistake on the part of one of the two proposing teams.

“In the 20-plus years Ive been in the agency, I havent seen this happen before,” McCuistion told Nature News.

According to Doug McCuistion, the conflict of interest did not involve Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for space science, who was originally the principal investigator for one of the proposed missions before moving to NASA this year.

The principal investigator for that proposal, called The Great Escape, is now Jim Burch of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. Planetary scientist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado at Boulder leads the other project, called Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN).

Both proposals are orbiters that would investigate the evolution and dynamics of the upper atmosphere of Mars as a way of understanding how the climate shifted from warm and wet to cold and dry. The spacecraft would measure current changes in the Martian atmosphere, most of which disappeared billions of years ago, possibly as the solar wind eroded it.

NASA had wanted to pick a mission by the end of 2007. The two finalists submitted their mission proposals in October, and NASA officials soon discovered the conflict in the evaluation panel, which comprised scientists and engineers from NASA and the research and development community.

Now, the agency has formed a new panel to choose between the two finalists for the $475-million mission, which would be the second in the Scout series that began with the launch of Phoenix in August.

Now, each team has until August to revise its proposal for the new launch window. A final decision will come at the end of 2008.

But the delay means that NASA will have to move the planned launch to 2013, since Mars launch opportunities occur only every 26 months.

Burch describes the missed launch window as “unfortunate,” but said the pressures were making it too risky to go ahead.

“It blew a schedule that was pretty tight to begin with,” he said. (ANI)

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