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A New Era of Planetary Exploration

by Dr. Robert D. Braun

Tuesday, May 6, 1997 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


The design and development of a series of small planetary exploration spacecraft is proceeding rapidly at NASA and industry centers across the country. Poised for flight in the coming decade, these projects should continue to expand our knowledge of the solar system long after the Mars Pathfinder landing and Mars Global Surveyor orbital insertion later this year. While providing scientists and the public with new data, insight, and images of Mars, these missions are operating with a "better, faster, cheaper" philosophy. As a result, flight of this aggressive series of landers and orbiters poses numerous technological challenges including: design of micro-spacecraft, sample-return systems, the first flight of an aerocapture system, autonomous precision landing, and design of lightweight, high-speed entry systems. In this lecture, NASA's robotic planetary exploration strategy will be discussed. Mission and science objectives will be presented with an emphasis on the technological challenges that lie ahead. Finally, current plans for the piloted exploration of Mars will be discussed.


Robert D. Braun is an aerospace technologist in the Space Systems and Concepts Division of the NASA Langley Research Center. He has been working on the development of aeroassist elements for robotic and piloted planetary exploration since 1987. Dr. Braun received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University in 1987, a M.S. in Astronautics from The George Washington University in 1989, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University in 1996. He has been a member of the Mars Pathfinder design team since 1992 and is the only non-JPL member of the Pathfinder entry, descent, and landing operations team. Dr. Braun has led the LaRC Mars Pathfinder analysis efforts for which he received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1996. He has also worked on the design of the New Millennium Mars Microprobes (scheduled for launch in Jan. 1999) and is currently leading LaRC's Mars 2001 aerocapture team. Dr. Braun also serves as the JPL point-of-contact for LaRC's planetary entry activities.

For more information, contact Arlene S. Levine at x43318 (