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Russia Left Out of New NASA Mars Project

Published: August 4, 2014 (Issue # 1822)



  • An artist's rendering of the Curiosity rover.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NASA will not use any Russian equipment to build its newest Mars rover, but a top Russian scientist said Sunday that political tension between Russia and the U.S. over the crisis in Ukraine had nothing to do with the decision.

A Russian-made instrument called NORD — which is an upgraded version of the neutron detector used aboard NASA's most recent Mars rover, Curiosity — was simply not up to scratch, said Lev Zeleny, head of the Russia Academy of Science's Institute for Space Studies.

NASA announced a tender last year to select the seven instruments that would be used by the new rover, which is simply known as Mars 2020 — a reference to the scheduled date of the mission.

However, when NASA presented the chosen instruments at a news conference in Washington last week, no Russian instruments were on display, prompting observers to jump to the conclusion that the crisis in Ukraine was beginning to unravel the vaunted U.S.-Russia space partnership.

"If you participate in a contest, it isn't guaranteed that you will win," Zeleny told reporters at the annual assembly of the International Committee on Space Research, which is being held in Moscow this year.

"There were a number of other applications, and it didn't go our way. I wouldn't want to link it to political reasons," he said.

NASA's leading Mars specialist, Michael Mayer, said at last week's news conference that the agency had received 58 proposals from companies around the world for their equipment to be fitted to the new rover. In the end, NASA opted for scientific equipment developed by U.S., Spanish, French and Norwegian scientists.

Mars 2020 will be based on the Curiosity rover, which successfully landed on the red planet in 2012.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos is currently working on a Mars probe with the European Space Agency, or ESA. NASA was originally slated to be the ESA's partner on the project, but budget cuts in Washington forced the U.S. space agency to withdraw from the program. Europe turned to Russia, which was eager to get involved in a new Mars project following the loss of the Phobos-Grunt probe in low-Earth orbit in 2011.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Sept. 15


Angelic music will ring out in the city during this week’s Third International Harp Competition. Hosted by the Shostakovich Philharmonic in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the country’s best musicians with 40 to 47 strings will convene to find out who’s best.



Tuesday, Sept. 16


Lenexpo plays host to Tekhnodrev, a three-day convention that focuses on the woodworking industry in Russia. Promoting the latest technologies and trends, the event features not only exhibitors from some of Russia’s largest woodworking companies but representatives of the forestry industry, who will have their own coinciding forum.


Parlez-vous français? We don’t here at The St. Petersburg Times but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Join the British Book Center’s French Club meeting this evening at 6 p.m. in their location near Technologichesky Institut metro station.



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