The MARS 2020 Science Definition Team—a team of 19 scientists and engineers—has outlined the mission and goals of the Rover that NASA plans to send to Mars in 2020. That Rover will look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible return to Earth, and demonstrate technology that would make human travel to the planet possible. This work, which resulted in a 154-page document is a major step in President Obama’s challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
NASA will conduct an open competition for the Rover’s payload and science instruments. They will be placed on a Rover similar to Curiosity. Using the Curiosity design will help to minimize mission costs and risks.
The new Rover will use its instruments to analyze the visual, mineralogical, and chemical compositions of the planet. It also will identify biosignatures or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically. Roughly 30 samples of rock cores and soils are expected to be brought back for testing.
With Curiosity having confirmed that Mars could have supported living microbes, the next step is to look for signs of past life. In addition to potentially answering that question, the samples may help scientists understand potential hazards, such as Martian dust and the collection of carbon dioxide for making oxygen and rocket fuel. In addition, the Rover will provide information for improved precision landing technology, which will be critical in eventual human exploration.The complete report is available at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/m2020/.