"NASA is in discussions with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) regarding potential scientific collaboration with their Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), due to enter Mars orbit about two days after MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter, which will arrive at Mars later this month," said James Green Director, Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA.

Testifying before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space Committee on Science, Space and Technology, he said while primarily a technology-demonstration mission, MOM includes five science instruments to study the Martian atmosphere, mineralogy and surface features.

"With multiple data sets being collected, NASA and ISRO scientists will have a wealth of information to help solve mysteries regarding the Mars atmosphere," he said.

"In addition, NASA and ISRO are talking about setting up a Joint Mars Working Group, under the auspices of the State Department's US-India Civil Space Joint Working Group, that would coordinate our two agencies' plans for studying one of the Earth's nearest neighbors," Green said.

Both the missions of NASA and ISRO will arrive at the Red Planet just in time to join the fleet of Mars-based spacecraft that could witness the effects of comet Siding Spring, Green told lawmakers.

MAVEN, he said, will explore the Mars' upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.

Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability, he added.

James F Bell, president of The Planetary Society & Professor at Arizona State University, described NASA as the most active, most capable, and most successful of all of the world's space agencies.

When NASA doesn't prioritize planetary science, no other agencies are presently capable of filling the gap, he added.

The emergence of the Chinese and Indian space programs and the continued successes of the European and Japanese programs illustrate that robotic exploration of space is an international priority a way to gain scientific knowledge, global prestige and advance technological capability, he said.

"In the coming decade, China is preparing a series of robotic lunar missions, Russia is preparing lunar, Venus and Mars missions, India has plans to go to the Moon and Mars, Japan is planning a second asteroid sample-return mission, and the Europeans are headed to Mercury, Mars, the asteroids and Jupiter," Bell said.

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