NASA Ames Plays Key Role in Proposed Space Missions

Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., are contributing to proposed missions to probe the atmosphere and crust of Venus and return a piece of a near-Earth asteroid for analysis on Earth.

Ames has a role in two of the winning proposals NASA selected as candidates for the agency's next space venture to another celestial body in our solar system. NASA will select one proposal for full development in mid-2011 after detailed mission concept studies are completed and reviewed. The final project may provide a better understanding of Earth's formation or perhaps the origin of life on our planet.

Each winning proposal team initially will receive approximately $3.3 million in 2010 to conduct a 12-month mission concept study that focuses on implementation feasibility, cost, management and technical plans. Studies also will include plans for educational outreach and small business opportunities. The studies will begin this year, and the selected mission must be ready for launch no later than Dec. 30, 2018. Mission cost, excluding the launch vehicle, is limited to $650 million.

"These are projects that inspire and excite young scientists, engineers and the public," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These three proposals provide the best science value among eight submitted to NASA."

The Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer, or SAGE, mission to Venus would release a probe to descend through the planet's atmosphere. During descent, instruments would conduct extensive measurements of the atmosphere's composition and obtain meteorological data.

The probe then would land on the surface of Venus, where its abrading tool would expose both a weathered and a pristine surface area to measure its composition and mineralogy. Scientists hope to understand the origin of Venus and why it is so different from Earth. Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado, Boulder, is the principal investigator.

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