On the heels of Curiosity rover's success, NASA announced today that it's planning a multi-year program that will solidify the United States as a leader in Mars exploration.
The program includes a new robotic science rover that is set to launch in 2020. It will be another significant step toward sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
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Mars Science Laboratory will use the same framework as Curiosity for the next rover's development and design. The agency says this will help keep costs and risks low. The mission fits within the five-year budget plan in the president's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request and is contingent on future appropriations.
Just a few months into the two-year mission, Curiosity has already made significant discoveries -- like finding an ancient streambed where water once flowed. More recently, it determined that astronauts could survive Mars radiation levels.
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NASA now has a total of seven Mars missions in the works. Shortly after the Curiosity rover landing in August, the agency announced plans for a 2016 program called InSight, a Discovery-class mission that will look into the deep interior of the Red Planet by drilling underneath Martian topsoil.
BONUS: Curiosity Rover's Latest Soil Samples in Photos
Scoop Marks in Rocknest Sand
The Curiosity rover took soil samples from an area called "Rocknest." The team chose this area because it lies in a flat part of the Gale Crater. This specific sample came from a drift of windblown dust. This particular photo shows the third (left) and fourth (right) scoops, each 1.6-inches wide.
This story originally published on Mashable here.