PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has selected three science investigations from which it will pick one potential 2016 mission to look at Mars’ interior for the first time; study an extraterrestrial sea on one of Saturn’s moons; or study in unprecedented detail the surface of a comet’s nucleus. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., would lead the Mars investigation.Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct its mission’s concept phase or preliminary design studies and analyses. After another detailed review in 2012 of the concept studies, NASA will select one to continue development efforts leading up to launch. The selected mission will be cost-capped at $425 million, not including launch vehicle funding. NASA’s Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in June 2010. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 28 submissions. The selected investigations could reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes. Three technology developments for possible future planetary missions also were selected. "NASA continues to do extraordinary science that is re-writing textbooks," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Missions like these hold great promise to vastly increase our knowledge, extend our reach into the solar system and inspire future generations of explorers."The planetary missions selected to pursue preliminary design studies are:-- Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) would study the structure and composition of the interior of Mars and advance understanding of the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets. Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.The proposed Mars lander would carry three experiments. A seismometer for measuring Mars quakes would yield knowledge about interior materials from the crust to the core. A thermal probe beneath the surface would monitor heat flow from the planet’s interior. Radio capability for Doppler tracking of tiny variations in the planet’s wobble would provide information about the size and nature of the core. Understanding more about the deep interior of another planet would enable important new comparisons with what is known about Earth’s interior.
"We want to know more about how the pieces that formed planets came together in the first place, and about the changes that took place afterwards," Banerdt said. "This would be a mission to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets." -- Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) would provide the first direct exploration of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. Ellen Stofan of Proxemy Research Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., is principal investigator. Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., would manage the project.-- Comet Hopper would study cometary evolution by landing on a comet multiple times and observing its changes as it interacts with the sun. Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland in College Park is principal investigator. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., would manage the project.