The NASA Mars 2020 Rover Mission and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Williford, Kenneth H.;Farley, Kenneth A.;Stack, Kathryn M.;Allwood, Abigail C.;Beaty, David;Beegle, Luther W.;Bhartia, Rohit;Brown, Adrian J.;de la Torre Juarez, Manuel;Hamran, Svein-Erik;Hecht, Michael H.;Hurowitz, Joel A.;Rodriguez-Manfredi, Jose A.;Maurice, Sylvestre;Milkovich, Sarah;Wiens, Roger C. 2018. The NASA Mars 2020 Rover Mission and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. From Habitability to Life on Mars, 275-308, DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-809935-3.00010-4

The NASA Mars 2020 rover mission will explore an astrobiologically relevant martian site to investigate regional geology, evaluate past habitability, seek signs of ancient life, and assemble a returnable cache of samples. The spacecraft is based on successful heritage design of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, but includes a new scientific payload and other advanced capabilities. The Mars 2020 science payload features the first two Raman spectrometers on Mars, the first microfocus X-ray fluorescence instrument, the first ground-penetrating radar, an infrared spectrometer, an upgraded microscopic and stereo context cameras and weather station, and a demonstration unit for oxygen production on Mars. The instrument suite combines visible and multispectral imaging with coordinated measurements of chemistry and mineralogy, from the submillimeter to the regional scale. Using the data acquired by the science instruments as a guide, the team will collect core samples of rock and regolith selected to represent the geologic diversity of the landing site and maximize the potential for future Earth-based analyses to answer fundamental questions in astrobiology and planetary science. These samples will be drilled, hermetically sealed, and cached on the martian surface for possible retrieval and return to Earth by future missions. The Mars 2020 spacecraft is designed and built according to an unprecedented set of biological, organic, and inorganic cleanliness requirements to maximize the scientific value of this sample suite. Here, we present the scientific vision for the Mars 2020 mission, provide an overview of the analytic capabilities of the science payload, and discuss how Mars 2020 seeks to further our understanding of habitability, biosignatures, and possibility of life beyond Earth.

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