NASA's Mars 2020 Science Definition Team this week released its recommendations for a rover the agency plans to send to the red planet by 2020. The announcement of the 2020 rover mission came in December 2012. The team of 19 researchers proposed that the rover be prepared to pave the way for a human mission to Mars, a goal President Obama has set for NASA to meet by the 2030s.
"Crafting the science and exploration goals is a crucial milestone in preparing for our next major Mars mission," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator at NASA. "The objectives determined by NASA with the input from this team will become the basis later this year for soliciting proposals to provide instruments to be part of the science payload on this exciting step in Mars exploration."
NASA will be holding open bids for the new rover's payload and science equipment. The instruments included and the build of the rover will be similar to NASA's most recent Mars rover, Curiosity. The new rover will build on Curiosity's discovery that conditions on Mars were once favorable for microbial life. In particular, the new rover will be designed to look for confirmation or signs of past life on the red planet.
"The Mars 2020 mission concept does not presume that life ever existed on Mars," said Jack Mustard, chairman of the Science Definition Team and a geology professor at Brown University. "However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life. No matter what we learn, we would make significant progress in understanding the circumstances of early life existing on Earth and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life."
The new rover will provide chemical and mineral analysis that can identify biosignatures, and will seek out geological features that may have been formed biologically. In addition, the rover will package Martian rock and soil samples for later return to Earth and perform demonstrations of technology that will be needed for a manned mission to Mars.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL)