NASA welcomes public comment on EIS for Mars 2020 mission
NASA has officially opened up the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their proposed Mars 2020 mission, including an online public meeting this Thursday. Interested organizations and the public are welcome to review the DEIS and submit their thoughts to the space agency.
Under U.S. law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) from federal agencies for “proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” The public comment period on the DEIS is part of the NEPA process, and according to a press release, NASA will take into consideration every comment they receive. Comments and NASA’s responses will be included in the Final EIS (FEIS).
NASA will host the online public meeting this Thursday, June 26, 2014, from 1–3 p.m. EDT at https://ac.arc.nasa.gov/mars2020. Attendance is limited to the first 500 people who join the session, and the website will open up to attendees 15 minutes before the meeting begins. No advance registration will be required.
The afternoon meeting will begin with presentations by NASA and Department of Energy officials on the proposed Mars mission, the power source options, and the contents of the DEIS. A question-and-answer period will follow, and the meeting will conclude with a chance for attendees to submit live written comments.
If you can’t make it to the online meeting, an on-demand replay will be available on the NASA Mars 2020 website. The entire public comment period runs through July 21, and the interested parties may submit comments by U.S. mail, e-mail, or telephone recording until then.
The Mars 2020 mission is intended to include a mobile science rover similar to NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, Curiosity, which launched in November 2011 and has been working on the Red Planet for one Martian year (687 Earth days, or about 668.5 Martian days) as of this past Tuesday. The new rover will maintain much of Curiosity’s physical design (and probably some spare parts) in an effort to save time and money on development.
The new rover, which has a planned mission duration of one Martian year, will have very different instruments as it has a different task. Largely, the robot should help scientists answer necessary questions and challenges regarding past life on Mars and future human visits to the planet. NASA had announced an open call for proposals for scientific and exploration instruments back in September 2013, and they received 58 such proposals before their January 2014 deadline.
The Mars missions under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program have systematically gone through several themes, starting with “Follow the Water”, which is necessary to understand both the physical history of Mars and the potential for future human exploration. Having found evidence of water, “Explore Habitability” became the next theme in order to seek other life-sustaining conditions. MSL’s Curiosity is considered the transition to the current theme, “Seek Signs of Life”.
NASA expects to launch this mission aboard an Atlas V rocket in July or August 2020 when, according to the NASA website, “Earth and Mars are in advantageous positions in their orbits for a Mars landing” and thus the mission will require less power to reach Mars than it otherwise would. The rover should arrive at Mars between January and March 2021.
Rae Botsford End is a freelance writer and editor whose primary work currently is writing technical white papers, contributing to SFI, and working on a speculative fiction novel that she hopes to have published soon. Rae wanted an opportunity to report on the various space-related events in and around Florida's Space Coast and approached SFI's founder about the possibility. Rae now covers an array of subjects for our growing website.