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From the “this makes complete sense” department: NASA and ESA have established an initiative to make future explorations of Mars a joint venture. The ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, met with NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler at the end of June and created the Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) that will provide a framework for the two agencies to define and implement their scientific, programmatic and technological goals at Mars. The initiative includes launch opportunities in 2016, 2018 and 2020, with landers and orbiters conducting astrobiological, geological, geophysical and other high-priority investigations, leading up to a sample return mission in the 2020s.
Both NASA and ESA have been reassessing their Mars exploration programs, and Weiller revealed at a press conference last year (when it was announced that the Mars Science Laboratory would be delayed) that NASA and ESA would seek to work together. But now it is official.
The two space agencies will be working together to plan future missions. A joint architecture review team will be established to assist the agencies in planning the mission portfolios. As plans develop, they will be reviewed by ESA member states for approval and by the US National Academy of Sciences.