Why are we reinventing the wheel?
LOS ANGELES – NASA says it wants to launch another mega-rover to Mars modeled after the wildly popular Curiosity.
The space agency said Tuesday the spacecraft will be built from spare parts from Curiosity. It would also use the novel landing system that delivered the car-size rover to Mars in August. The new mission is scheduled for 2020 and is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion. But scientists haven't hashed out exactly what the rover would try to accomplish on Mars. (LINK)
There are people, and I'm not one of them, who feel as if we need to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030's. I'm one of the most pro-space exploration techies that I know, but sending a manned mission to Mars is foolish when we're (a) broke and (b) don't know what men could do that robots couldn't. A manned mission to Mars will cost 1,000 times (at least) what the average unmanned mission costs with no general benefits to glean other than saying that we did it.
In my opinion, we would be far better off sending that sort of rover to Europa or any of the Jovian "icy moons" with an expanded mission to search for life under the ice in seas that we believe are present and 'heated'. The only reason that JPL is talking about going back to Mars with the same thing that we just flew is because it's safe and there's an indication that it would be successful. What we would learn from such a mission given the other opportunities out there would be minuscule compared to other un-manned missions. Sending an icy moons orbiter as a prelude to robotic landings or sending a Titan orbiter in prelude to landing on Saturn's largest moon simply makes much more sense.
The race to the Moon was a marvel of human achievement and given that it was managed on slide rule computations is amazing. We needed to go to the Moon for a number of reasons, not all of them scientific. Sending human cargo to Mars, when we are generally sure that it's a dead rock is not the same thing at all.