Apart from the Mars Global Surveyor, which is currently mapping the planet, the United States has the Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter approaching the planet this year and another orbiter and lander due to touch down with a small rover in 2001.
The European Space Agency (ESA) will be sending its "Mars Express" with an orbiter and lander in 2003. One of its experiments will be to find out whether the "stream-bed" images on Mars were actually formed by water or by seismic activity.
The "Mars Express" will be complemented by the Japanese Mars Mission, "Nozumi", which will be there at the same time to investigate the upper regions of the Martian atmosphere.
In this year of enormous investment in space instrumentation, there will be the launch of the international "Samples Return" campaign which is a joint U.S.A., French, Italian project to pick up and drill for samples from the surface and sub-surface of the planet, returning the first samples to Earth for analysis in 2008.
There will be further joint missions in 2005, 2007 and 2009 which will include the launch of the "Netlander" programme, a series of four identical landers which will be placed on pre-designated points on the surface of Mars to see how the planet differs from one geographical area to another.
This series of joint, international missions, instigated by the Mars Exploration Group, will ensure that global interest in Mars is maintained by a continuous flow of information incorporating new knowledge and results of recent research.
Following the array of experiments and data collection over the next decade, there should be enough information to reveal whether there is water, carbons and/or organics on the planet and whether there was once life on Mars.
However, it was stated by one of the speakers that the information gathered will beg further questions. In today's workshop, a question was posed about the contamination by material from Mars brought to Earth and conversely, contamination of Mars by material or humans from Earth.
Dr. Dan Cleese, Chief Scientist for Mars Exploration for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, said that a procedure has to be agreed internationally to quarantine the samples which will be returned to Earth.
Dr. Richard Bonneville of the French Space Agency (CNES) said that there are more bacteria on the human body than human cells so that fact will be taken into consideration before a Mars settlement is designed. Nevertheless, according to Dr. Cleese, there could be a human mission to Mars between 2010 and 2020.
UN Space Reports at SpaceDaily