It may seem like it was just yesterday when NASA sent Curiosity hurling through space and time to land on the desolate landscape that is the planet Mars with high hopes that we might find some new information as to whether or not the red planet can sustain life. If you can believe it, that was already five years ago. It begged the question if Mars had ever inhabited living organisms at all, or if it ever could.
Ever at the frontier of space technology, NASA is already working on the follow-up to Curiosity as stated in a recent announcement. While Curiosity’s primary mission was to determine if Mars was suitable for life, it’s sleek new and improved version will have a different, yet equally, focused mission, to find signs of ancient life in what appears to be an inhospitable planet.
The newcomer has been dubbed Mars 2020 and will use technology like x-ray spectrometers to search for microbial life signs such as the former presence of billion-year-old lakes and rivers. This unique technology can see things as small as the grains of table salt making it a powerhouse tool for the mission at hand. Additionally, it is also equipped with an ultraviolet laser which NASA says is going to be used to detect the “glow” from the rings of carbon atoms. It also sports a heavy duty drill to capture rock cores and will utilize a robotic arm to pick up and seal the samples into tightly sealed packages. Finally, it comes stock with radar technology that can penetrate through the surface of Mars making it possible to map out layers of water, rock, and ice upwards of 30 feet deep.
NASA’s project scientist on the mission Ken Farley hopes that they’ll learn a lot from the samples collected from this mission with the grand goal of determining whether or not there may be life or may have been life on other planets, answering the age-old question, are we alone in the universe?
So just how different is Mars 2020 from Curiosity? The new and improved rover comes with seven brand new instruments, improved wheels and traction for cutting through the planet’s rocky surface, and additional autonomy. With that being said, over 85% of the Mars 2020 rover is based on its predecessor.
Jim Watzin, the director of the Mars Exploration Program, stated that this puts them at a unique advantage as so much of the hardware had been pre-designed or already existing in the Curiosity unit, thereby saving time and money, but most importantly, reducing the risk of failure.
The MArs 2020 will cost approximately 2.1 billion dollars according to NASA officials, a slight increase from the 2.5 billion dollars it cost to fund Curiosity, hopefully, by the time the mission is complete, we will have some interesting answers about the universe we reside in and the potential for expanding our footprint.