THOR Fact Sheet (PDF)

THOR Science

The fundamental purpose of the THOR mission is to investigate the present habitability of Mars. Because liquid water is essential for life, NASA's Mars exploration plan revolves around finding places where water exists now.

THOR focuses on the subsurface in the mid-latitude regions, where there is compelling evidence for water ice today. In addition, recent discoveries in some mid-latutude gullies suggest that liquid water has flowed at the surface in the past few years. Unfortunately, exploring such gullies and similar locations is beyond current rover technology.

THOR's unique approach to looking for water - using impacts to open up the subsurface - provides a practical means to explore regions which are difficult or impossible to reach using rovers and landers.

Specifically, THOR's science goals are the following.

  1. Determine the abundance of water in the deep Martian subsurface where ice can be stable.
  2. Determine the abundance and origin of key trace gases, including CH4, SO2, and CO.
  3. Test models of cyclic climatic change and the recent occurrence of liquid water.
  4. Search for organic compounds in habitable zones.

In addition to these primary science objectives, THOR has two secondary science objectives:

  1. Monitor the current climate through measurements of atmospheric water, dust, and CO2.
  2. Study the mineralogy of aqueous environments.