The French scientific community is involved in planetary exploration for more than thirty years, at the beginning mainly in cooperation with the former USSR (e.g. missions Phobos 1 and 2 in the 80's), then through ESA (Mars - Express). In 97, following the success of the US Pathfinder mission, NASA proposed to CNES to participate to the first Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. This idea created a tremendous excitation in the French scientific community and CNES took the decision to contribute to the MSR program. Conscious that only the very best laboratories will be selected to analyse Mars samples, the French ministry of Research has created in May 99, the CSEEM (Comité Scientifique pour l'Etude des Echantillons Martiens). This Committee mandated to coordinate the national endeavour, has released late 99 an AO aimed at implementing a national preparatory program to Mars samples analysis. More than 40 proposals have been submitted involving more than 450 scientists from around 60 French labs. Most of these proposals are interdisciplinarity jointly submitted by planetologists, mineralogists, geochemists, astrobiologists and biologists. The first stage of this preparatory program is on going and will last until mid-2003. Amongst the priorities of the preparatory program are development of dedicated instrumentation, capability of analysing as small as possible samples, measurements integration; rock-macromolecule interaction; bacteria behaviour under Martian conditions; sample transportation under quarantine conditions, etc In the late 90's, the French participation to the NASA led 2003-2005 MSR mission was mainly consisting in a sample return orbiter to be launched by an Ariane V rocket. This contribution to MSR was one of the two priorities of the CNES Mars Exploration Program named PREMIER together with the NetLander network. Unfortunately late 99, due the failure of the two NASA missions MPL and MCO, a rearchitecture of the program has been decided and the first MSR mission is now expected not sooner than 2013. In spite of this great deception, France still intents to cooperate to the first MSR mission and the PREMIER program has been rearchitectured to take into account the new schedule. CNES will launch in 2007 the PREMIER-2007 mission that will consist in a Mars orbiter (MO-07) that will carry the NetLander and will test critical technologies for the future MSR missions such Rendezvous and Capture in Mars orbit.
34th COSPAR Scientific Assembly
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