When will the U.S. plan another major space mission?
Is the U.S. planning to return to the Moon sometime in the future--and is a Mars mission still in the works?
NASA is planning a mission to the moon that is scheduled to occur around the year 2020. You'd think they'd do it sooner, but at this point we actually don't have a rocket that can make it to the moon. The last one we had was the Saturn V, and it was brought out of commission by Nixon in the 1960's. Scientists are building a new set of rockets, the Ares I and V, which will make the moon once again within our reach.
The moon mission is said to be planned partly to test systems for a possible trip to Mars, but the NASA site doesn't have any concrete plans to send astronauts to Mars yet. So far it's planning a Scout mission for 2013, which will send another rover such as Spirit and Opportunity. NASA will choose a design from a number of proposals submitted by scientists; we don't know if the new rover will look like our current ones or whether it will be different.
By the 2020's, NASA plans to send a robotic vehicle on the first ever return mission to Mars. The vehicle would collect samples that scientists can study in their laboratories on Earth. Later plans include robotic field labs that will search for subtle signs of life and deep drilling projects that will seek to learn about the geology of Mars, but no human missions yet.
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