Plenty of people are working on possible solutions to further explore Mars. The abiding problem is how to get some range out of the next generation of probes. It looks like the smart money is on some sort of aircraft, and the most plausible idea is to my mind a balloon. It sounds a great idea to send a fixed winged aircraft of some kind, but that's a lot of technology and a lot to go wrong. Physorg has an interesting article on one possible contender for a balloon mission.
The Mars Global Explorer orbiter has been taking shots of the surface for several years now, and when compared, they have revealed some intriguing indications that the planet is a lot more active than previously expected. Voice Of America has a detailed article.
Though it has been strongly denied by Spielbergs representatives, rumour is rife that Tom Cruises' increasingly bizarre behaviour including a rant against the use of Ritalin and the appearance on the War Of The Worlds set of a tent full of Scientology members, has put some strain on their relationship.
NASA has officially laid down plans to return to the Moon by 2018, where astronauts will set up settlements capable of supporting 4 astronauts for stays of up to six months at a time. The new missions will need new hardware, including a liquid methane powered lander, which is a forward looking concept as future explorers may one day brew their own methane fuel on the Martian surface. The Moon misions are very much seen as a staging post for the exploration of Mars, with the long duration stays on the Lunar surface providing the extensive experience that will be needed for these missions.
The recently founded 4frontiers company of Florida has some ambitious plans, to see a human settlement on Mars within the next 20 years. Founded by a former Intel manager, the plan is to first develop a terrestrial testing ground which would generate revenue from tourists. They are seeking an initial investment of $25 million dollars. More info here from Businessweek.
The Spirit rover on Mars continues to send back the most amazing images. The latest is a simply stunning animation showing both moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos rising into the night sky. Check it out here.
These are exciting times for the exploration of Mars. Several reports have arrived in recent days detailing discoveries of great importance to our understanding of the red planet and the prospects for live there, and visits by human beings. First, from Mars Express scientist Gerhard Neukum (Berlin University), comes news that volcanos spotted by the probe have been geologically active in "recent times". Of course, recent times for a geologist can mean a very long time ago, and here we are talking millions of years, but that is so close in geological terms that it does raise the very real possibility that these volcanos could come back to life. More here.
Then from the Mars Odyessy spacecraft, comes positive news that Mars is jampacked with Water. Heat and water, a pretty good combination to make life on Mars just that little bit more plausible.
Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon) doesn't think anyone is going to set foot on Mars for at least twenty years, but he is optimistic that it will prove a smoother and easier trip than his to the moon. CNN are carrying more detail of his comments.
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has run into trouble around the red planet, switching to an emergency "safe mode". In safe mode, most of the spacecrafts science instruments have switched off. BBC news has more on the situation.
Rising from the ashes of two previous failed Mars Missions, Phoenix is an ambitious mission to scout for life on Mars, including drilling into the surface. Unlike the probes presently on the surface, Phoenix will be a fixed position mission. An excellent article can be found at space.com.