The Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor (Ares), around the dimension of a little plane, will be folded into a rocket and launched to the red planet. It will be the first aircraft ever to take wing over another world.
After entering the atmosphere in a capsule, the aircraft will deploy the parachutes and unfold its wings and tail, before firing its rocket motor and flying around a mile over the surface of Mars for about an hour and a quarter.
The idea is that an atmospheric craft similar to Ares can explore far more ground than existing rovers, similar to Spirit and Phoenix, but in much more detail than an orbital spacecraft. It is hoped that it may possibly cover as much as 600 square miles in its short flight.
While the idea was tabled several years ago, with suggestions it might even have launched by 2007, no progress has so far been made.
On the other hand, NASA has issued a "teaming opportunity", offering private companies and designers the opportunity to help create the craft.
The team behind the concept hopes that it would be accepted as one of the space agency’s "Discovery" missions, aimed at swiftly as well as (relatively) inexpensively exploring other worlds in our solar system.
Other recent proposals that been proposed for Discovery include a nuclear-powered robot sailing-boat to plough the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Likewise, a proposal by scientists at the California Institute of Technology has suggested that armies of flying, sailing and driving robots will one day explore other planets.