NASA’s Next Mars Mission Would Sniff Out ‘Biosignatures’
NASA’s next Mars rover should recover rock samples for eventual return to Earth, a space agency report recommends, part of an effort to find signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.
The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team report released Tuesday sets out the goals for NASA’s next planned rover, set to arrive in the next decade on Mars.
“Had life ever been there and did it leave a mark?” said report chairman Jack Mustard of Brown University in Providence, R.I. “We are looking where life could have once been on Mars.”
NASA now operates two rovers on Mars, the nuclear-battery-powered Curiosity rover, a $2.5 billion mobile chemistry lab launched in 2011, and the Opportunity rover, one of two $800 million geology explorers launched in 2003. The Mars 2020 rover would copy the Curiosity rover but carry different instruments, ones aimed at detecting “biosignatures” of past life on Mars, rather than chemistry tools. Instead of the heavy drill used by Curiosity, the new rover would rely on lighter coring-samplers to collect 31 samples for return to Earth.