News / Science & Technology

Next Mars Rover Could Look for Signs of Past Life

Artist's Concept of Mars 2020 Rover (NASA/JPL-Caltech )
Artist's Concept of Mars 2020 Rover (NASA/JPL-Caltech )
Suzanne Presto
The U.S. space agency, NASA, is planning to send another rover to Mars in 2020.  
A NASA-appointed team of 19 scientists and engineers says the next Mars rover should seek out signs of past life on the Red Planet and collect samples for possible future return to Earth.

One member of the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, Lindy Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, studies the evolution of planets.  She told reporters during a NASA teleconference that questions are what drive scientific discoveries.   

"And one of the very biggest questions for all of humankind is, 'are we alone?' and that is the question we're hoping to make really big advances with with this Mars 2020 mission," she said.

Scientists already scored a major victory when NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet last August, provided evidence that ancient Mars had an environment that could have supported living microbes.  

The team says the next step is to actually seek out biosignatures, preserved features in ancient rocks and soil that could have formed biologically.         

Jack Mustard is the chair of the Science Definition Team and a professor of geological sciences at Brown University in Rhode Island.  He says team members did discuss whether to look for existing life on Mars.

"But the feeling was, on the basis of the scientific evidence we have today, that the most logical steps forward were to look for the ancient signs of life that would be preserved within the rock record," he explained, adding that evidence suggests that habitable environments on Mars were common in the ancient past.

The next rover will look similar to the car-sized, six-wheeled Curiosity rover, in part because using an existing design will reduce costs.  The 2020 rover would be able to drill into and sample Martian rock, just as Curiosity does now.  But the team says a major objective for the next rover is to package as many as 31 samples that could be returned to Earth during a later mission.

John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut and NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington, noted that while the 2020 rover mission concept allows for the selection, gathering and caching of samples, it does not include their eventual return.

"I wouldn't rule out that perhaps human explorers will go and retrieve the cache, you know, in 20-plus years from now, as explorers set foot on Mars," he said.  "That's an eventual goal: to put astrobiologists and planetary scientists on the surface of Mars."

The team also says the 2020 rover should help advance NASA's plans for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s.  The 2020 mission could help scientists understand any hazards posed by Martian dust or demonstrate ways to collect carbon dioxide that could be used as a resource for making oxygen or rocket fuel.

The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team is made up of experts from universities, research institutions and NASA.  They spent much of 2013 preparing guidelines for the Mars 2020 mission and released a 154-page report on Tuesday.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid