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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More