Science and Exploration

Next NASA Mars Rover to Seek Signs of Past Life

By Marc Boucher
July 9, 2013
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Next NASA Mars Rover to Seek Signs of Past Life
Early artist sketch of Mars 2020 rover.

At a NASA teleconference today NASA released a report from the Science Definition Team (SDT) on the objectives of the NASA Mars 2020 Rover. The SDT team outlined four objectives.
A. Explore an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars to decipher its geological processes and history, including the assessment of past habitability.

B. Assess the biosignature preservation potential within the selected geological environment and search for potential biosignatures.

C. Demonstrate significant technical progress towards the future return of scientifically
selected, well-documented samples to Earth.

D. Provide an opportunity for contributed Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) or Space Technology Program (STP) participation, compatible with the science payload and within the mission’s payload capacity.

The report’s Executive Summary states that “the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) has outlined a mission concept for a science-focused, highly mobile rover to explore and investigate in detail a site on Mars that likely was once habitable. The SDT-preferred mission concept employs new in situ scientific instrumentation in order to seek signs of past life (had it been there), select and store a compelling suite of samples in a returnable cache, and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration of Mars. The mission concept fully addresses the requirements specified by NASA in the SDT charter while also ensuring alignment with the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Planetary Science (Visions and Voyages, 2011).

While the rover would look for signs of past life, it will be not be equipped to search for potential current life on Mars.

Press Release: Science Team Outlines Goals for NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover, NASA

Report of the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (PDF), NASA

Report Appendices (PDF)

Audio of today’s teleconference (MP3)

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