Basic concept of the Mars 2020 rover (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Basic concept of the Mars 2020 rover (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

On July 9, the Science Definition Team commissioned by NASA to devise the outlines of a robotic mission to Mars in 2020 publicly released their report. Despite devoting an entire section to “what is new and exciting about this mission,” the announcement generally fell flat, with much of the detail too nuanced to make for good press. The general outlines call for a rover and a mission based on and quite similar to Curiosity. The chief differences include:

  •  Advances in landing capability that permit the rover to touch down much closer to its target site, thereby saving travel time and expanding science time
  • Petrological investigations based on drilling complete core samples instead of pulverizing samples and analyzing them in aggregate from average compositional values
  • Preparation and storing of samples in a cache that can later be retrieved and returned to Earth for more thorough analysis

These combined advances were designed to meet the objectives handed to the team to:

A. Explore an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars to decipher its geological processes and history, including the assessment of past habitability.
B. Assess the biosignature preservation potential within the selected geological environment and search for potential biosignatures.
C. Demonstrate significant technical progress towards the future return of scientifically selected, well-documented samples to Earth.
D. Provide an opportunity for contributed Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) or Space Technology Program (STP) participation, compatible with the science payload and within the mission’s payload capacity.

all while remaining within NASA’s ever-tightening budget. At the very least, the mission – always assuming it comes off – should keep the science flowing.

Read below for the full report:

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Merryl Azriel

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.