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As NASA's newest Mars explorer InSight has landed on the Red Planet, it seems there are at least two more orbiters said to join the Martian brigade. The InSight landed less than 400 miles from Curiosity, the only working robot on Mars.
InSight will be quake monitoring for two years until the rovers from the US, Europe, and China arrive. NASA's Mars 2020, on the other hand, will look for rocks that might hold evidence of ancient microbial life and secure them safely for its return to Earth sometime in the early 2030s. It's targeting a river delta in Jezero Crater.
Just three days after the InSight announced its arrival after 'seven minutes of terror,' NASA rolled out a commercial lunar delivery program. The space agency has shortlisted nine US companies to compete in getting science and technology experiments to the lunar surface.
The first launch could take place as soon as next year. The space agency wants to check how it goes before trying it on mars. "The moon is where it's at right now relative to commercial space," said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission office, that will be responsible for the lunar payload project.
Also, NASA is planning an orbiting outpost near the moon for astronauts, at the Trump administration's direction. It would be a stop-over point before the moon landings, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
"The reality is, yes, your nation right now is extremely committed to getting to Mars," Bridenstine said following InSight's touchdown, "and using the moon as a tool to achieve that objective as fast as possible." Mars is the obvious place for "boots on the ground" after the moon, said Zurbuchen.