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Spare parts will be used to build next Mars rover

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 9:10 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — NASA plans to follow up its Mars rover Curiosity mission with a duplicate rover that could collect and store samples for return to Earth, the agency's lead scientist said on Tuesday.

The rover will use spare parts and engineering models developed for Curiosity, four months into the $2.5 billion, two-year mission on Mars to look for habitats that could have supported microbial life.

Replicating the rover's chassis, sky-crane landing system and other gear will enable NASA to cut the cost of the new mission to about $1.5 billion, said John Grunsfeld, the space agency's associate administrator for science, said Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

Budget shortfalls forced NASA to pull out of a series of joint missions with Europe, designed to return rock and soil samples from Mars in the 2020s. Europe, instead, will partner with Russia for the launch vehicle and other equipment that was to have been provided by NASA.

Grunsfeld said NASA will provide a key organics experiment for Europe's ExoMars rover, as well as engineering and mission support under the agency's proposed budget for the year beginning Oct. 1.

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