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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs