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In what may be the ultimate in long-distance telephone service, NASA on Wednesday put out a call for a commercially owned and operated satellite network on Mars. The space agency needs to keep in touch with its rovers and landers on Mars — and the two communication satellites currently orbiting the Red Planet are getting old. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft was launched in 2001. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter followed in 2005.

"There is a potential communications gap in the 2020s," NASA wrote in its request for information, which was posted on a federal procurement website. "With that in mind, NASA is interested in exploring alternative models to sustain and evolve the Mars relay infrastructure," For now, NASA is just seeking ideas, with no firm plans or funding to purchase commercial communication services on Mars. Proposals are due by Aug. 25. The solicitation is open to all organizations, including international organizations.

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— Reuters