NASA reveals objectives for 2020 Mars rover

10 Jul 2013

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Planning for NASA's 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalises on the design and engineering work done for the current Curiosity rover, but with new scientific instruments to achieve different objectives. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

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It’s barely been a year since NASA landed its Curiosity rover on Mars and now the US space agency has revealed plans for the rover it plans to send to the red planet in 2020.

A report by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, which NASA appointed in January to outline scientific goals for the mission, indicates that the Mars-bound rover in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the planet.

“Crafting the science and exploration goals is a crucial milestone in preparing for our next major Mars mission,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, DC.

“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.”

The report details how the new rover would use its instruments for visual, mineralogical and chemical analysis down to microscopic scale to understand the environment around its landing site and identify biosignatures, or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically.

Mars

This is a reduced version of a panorama from Curiosity, with 1.3bn pixels in the full-resolution version. It shows Curiosity at the ‘Rocknest’ site on Mars, where the rover scooped up samples of windblown dust and sand. Curiosity used three cameras to take the component images on several days between 5 October and 16 November. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The Mars 2020 mission will provide a unique capability to address the major questions of habitability and life in the solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, DC.

“This mission represents a major step towards creating high-value sampling and interrogation methods, as part of a broader strategy for sample returns by planetary missions.”

Samples collected and analysed by the rover will help inform future human exploration missions to Mars and be a major step in meeting US President Barack Obama’s challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, NASA said.

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Tina held senior editorial positions at daily newspapers in Ottawa and Toronto

editorial@siliconrepublic.com