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NASA's New Mars Rover to Explore Evidence of Life on the Red Planet

Jul 18, 2016 02:38 AM EDT
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NASA will now proceed on the final design and construction of their newest Mars rover that is expected to be launched on summer of 2020 and reach the red planet on 2021.

Like its predecessor, the 2020 rover will have six wheels and weigh about a ton. However, unlike Curiosity, the new rover boasts an array of new science instruments and enhancements capable of exploring the red planet like never before.

With its main mission of searching evidence of early life on the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 rover is equipped with entirely new subsystem, including a coring drill on its arm and a rack of sample tubes, to collect and prepare Martian rocks and soil samples. The sample tubes are planned to be left at selected locations to be picked-up by future sample-retrieval missions. These samples will then be studied on Earth to search for evidence of life on Mars and possible health hazards for future human missions.

"The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth," said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement. "This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA's Journey to Mars-to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet."

According to a press release, the Mars 2020 rover will also feature two science instruments on its mast to provide high-resolution imaging and three types of spectroscopy for characterizing rocks and soil from a distance and help determine which targets to explore close-up.

Additionally, a suite of sensors will be mounted on the mast and desk of the new rover to monitor weather conditions and dust environment of the planet, while ground-penetrating radar will assess the sub-surface geological structure of the red planet. A suite of cameras and microphone will also be mounted on the rover to capture never-before-seen or heard imagery and sounds of the rover's entry, descent and landing on the red planet.

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