NASA committee sets goals for 2020 rover mission to Mars

July 9, 2013 at 7:12 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., July 9 (UPI) -- A rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, the agency said in a report Tuesday.

The report by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, which NASA appointed in January to outline scientific objectives for the mission, said the rover would be designed to look for signs of past life and collect samples for possible future return to Earth.

Scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations proposed a mission with several high-priority planetary science goals, and intended to be a major step in meeting President Barack Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

"Crafting the science and exploration goals is a crucial milestone in preparing for our next major Mars mission," John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science in Washington, said. "The objectives determined by NASA with the input from this team will become the basis later this year for soliciting proposals to provide instruments to be part of the science payload on this exciting step in Mars exploration."

The 2020 mission proposed by the Science Definition Team would build upon the accomplishments of the Curiosity rover and other Mars missions, including the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which found evidence of the existence of water in Mars' past.

"The Mars 2020 mission concept does not presume that life ever existed on Mars," said Jack Mustard, chairman of the Science Definition Team and a professor at the Geological Sciences at Brown University. "However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life. No matter what we learn, we would make significant progress in understanding the circumstances of early life existing on Earth and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life."

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