If you’re looking for a public figure with an astronomical approval rating, think Curiosity. The Mars rover has been a huge hit in terms of both public and scientific interest.
NASA seems to love Curiosity, too. So much so that the space agency is planning to launch a similar rover to Mars in 2020. Former astronaut John Grunsfeld, now NASA’s science chief, announced the new rover mission December 4th during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
With the unveiling of the $1.5-billion rover plan, NASA now has seven current or planned missions to Mars. But no trips dedicated to more exotic places like Titan or Europa, which also might harbor extraterrestrial microbes—and which have received considerably fewer robot visitors.
Plus it’s unclear how well the 2020 rover will mesh with existing blueprints for Mars exploration. Long-term plans drawn up by planetary scientists called for a series of missions ultimately bringing samples from Mars back to Earth. But the new rover may not help achieve that goal.
So Curiosity has been a hit. But would a knockoff visit be a mission, or a miss?
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]