NASA’s next Mars rover mission, launching in 2020, will be to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet. Along with the search for life, the next rover will collect samples for a possible future return to Earth and demonstrate technology humans would use when they explore the planet.
The news comes in the form of a 154-page document prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team. NASA appointed the group in January to outline what the next mission’s scientific objectives will be.
The proposed mission concept could potentially fill several high-priority science goals. It would also be a big step toward meeting a challenge set by President Barack Obama to send humans to Mars in the next few decades.
Now that the next Mars mission’s objectives have been established, NASA will host an open competition for the payload and science instruments of the new rover. unlike previous missions, the new mission will start with a rover similar to the one launched previously — Curiosity.
But using the same design will help NASA cut mission costs and risks, as well as deliver a rover that can accomplish the mission’s purpose. Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 and has spent time drilling rocks, analyzing samples, taking photos, and traveling toward Mount Sharp, where it will survey the layers of Mars’ history in the giant rock formation.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, D.C., called establishing the mission’s objectives “a crucial milestone.” He added:
“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.”
And scientists have high hopes for the next Mars mission, riding on the coattails of Curiosity’s findings. The newest Mars rover recently confirmed that past environmental conditions on Mars could have supported life in the form of microbes. In a way, despite not yet reaching its destination, the Mars Curiosity rover has already accomplished its mission.
For NASA and the Science Definition Team, that means the next logical step is to look for signs of past life. Will you be keeping up with the latest news on NASA’s next Mars rover mission?
[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech]