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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid