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Conflict Concerns Delay Mars Scout Selection

WASHINGTON – NASA is delayingthe selection of the next of its Mars Scout series of missions by a few monthsto address conflict of interest concerns that arose just before the finalevaluation of the proposals was to begin.

"Inpreparing for the evaluation of Mars Scout Concept Study Reports for the finalselection, NASA identified an organizational conflict of interest. NASAdetermined action had to be taken to resolve the conflict in order to maintaina fair competition," NASA's Mars Exploration Program announced Nov. 28."Among several actions deemed necessary to address the conflict, the mostsignificant is that NASA will reconstitute the evaluation team with newmembers, thereby eliminating the organizational conflict of interest. In orderto minimize the impact to the teams' proposed mission schedules, NASA willexpedite the reconstitution and evaluation processes. However, this action willdelay the evaluation and announcement of the selection of the next Mars Scoutmission by a few months. The teams will be notified when the new schedule isfinal."

NASAspokesman Dwayne Brown declined to say what conflict of interest had beendiscovered. "It would be inappropriate to discuss further details due tothe ongoing competition," he said.

NASApicked two finalists for the 2011 Mars Scoutmission opportunity in January, with plans to make a final selection by earlynext year. Both finalists were Boulder, Colo.-based institutions proposing tosend an orbiter to the red planet to study how its atmosphere has evolved overtime.

Oneof the missions, dubbed the Great Escape, was proposed by Alan Stern beforeNASA Administrator Mike Griffin lured him away from the Southwest ResearchInstitute in April to run the agency's Science Mission Directorate, whichoversees a $5 billion portfolio that includes robotic Mars missions. Upontaking the NASA job, Stern stepped down as principal investigator for the GreatEscape and recused himself from the Mars Scout selection.

Brownsaid Nov. 28 that the conflict-of-interest issue that arose was not aboutStern's association with the Great Escape proposal. "Alan Stern was notinvolved and has not been involved in any respect," he said.

Theother mission, the Mars Atmosphereand Evolution Mission, or Maven, was proposed by Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Jakosky said at the time of Maven's selection that NASA'sGoddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., would manage the project, withDenver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build the orbiter. Maven'sscience partners included Goddard, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Backin January, Stern told Space News that the Great Escape team included the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md., Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., the University of Michigan and "a host of other players."

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