July 9, 2013
NASA Announces Details Of 2020 Mars Rover Mission
[ Watch the Video: Proposed 2020 Mars Rover Science Goals ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineJust last year NASA made an historic landing on the Red Planet with the most advanced rover ever built, Curiosity. Now, the space agency has unveiled plans for a rover in 2020 to extend its reach for Mars even further.
NASA released a 154-page document on Tuesday detailing the Mars 2020 mission to look for signs of past life, collect samples to potentially return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration on the Red Planet. A team of 19 scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations helped create the Mars 2020 document.
"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. "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."
According to the document, the 2020 mission would build upon the accomplishments of Curiosity and other Mars missions. After analyzing rock sediment collected through drilling, Curiosity recently confirmed that Mars used to have an environment suitable for life. Now, scientists at NASA want to go a step further by seeing if Mars holds signs of past life.
"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 professor of Geological Sciences 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 team is proposing that the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for a more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth. The science conducted by the rover's instruments would help to expand our knowledge about Mars even further and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth or not.
"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. "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."
The 2020 mission's samples will also help inform NASA about future human exploration missions to Mars. The rover could make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide.
NASA has high hopes in helping the US become the first nation to send a human to Mars. President Barack Obama has even expressed his hopes for pushing the space agency toward that goal. A seven-year-old boy named Dexter Anderson from England has even thrown his name in the ring to try and become the first person to walk on Mars.
"Dear NASA, My name is Dexter I heard that you are sending two people to Mars and I would like to come but I'm 7," Anderson wrote, according to Daily Mail.
NASA replied, saying that he could someday become a space pioneer, wishing him success and encouraging him to keep up his grades in school. However, the space agency failed to mention that Anderson was getting NASA mixed up with Inspiration Mars Foundation's mission to send two space tourist to Mars in 2018 on a 501-day journey to circle the Red Planet and head back to Earth.
The US space agency has found eight potential new astronauts who could become the first cohort to ever set foot on Mars. NASA said this group will receive a wide array of technical training at space centers around the world to prepare for missions to low-Earth orbit, asteroids and Mars.