NASA, which plans to send a new rover to Mars in 2020, intends to solicit proposals for the spacecraft’s science instruments this fall, the agency announced July 9.
A science definition team commissioned by NASA has recommended that the rover look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of Mars.
“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,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science.
To minimize costs and technological risk, the instruments will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, NASA said. Curiosity landed on Mars almost a year ago and recently confirmed that past environmental conditions on the planet could have supported microbial 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 in Providence, R.I. “However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life.”
Mustard’s team of 19 scientists and engineers, which described its recommendations in a 154-page report, proposed that the new rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil. A later mission would bring the samples to Earth for further analysis.
“The science conducted by the rover’s instruments would expand our knowledge of Mars and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth,” NASA said.
A video on the Mustard team’s recommendations is available on YouTube.