Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology JPL HOME EARTH SOLAR SYSTEM STARS & GALAXIES SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY BRING THE UNIVERSE TO YOU JPL Email News RSS Mobile Video
JPL Banner
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Home Participate


For Scientists
Instrument Section

Mars 2020 Connection
to the Mars Exploration Program Science Strategy:
Seek Signs of Life

The Mars 2020 mission would explore a site likely to have been habitable, seek signs of past life, fill a returnable cache with the most compelling samples, and demonstrate technology needed for the future human and robotic exploration of Mars.

Evolving Science Strategies for Mars Exploration
Evolving Science Strategies for Mars Exploration
Exploration Timeline

Leveraging discoveries from past Mars missions about water and habitability on Mars. The Mars 2020 rover would represent a shift toward of directly seeking signs of past microbial life.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program has a long-term, systematic exploration plan for the Red Planet. Mars missions build on each other, with discoveries and innovations made by prior missions guiding what comes next. Mars missions are guided by evolving, discovery-driven science strategies that provide continuity in Mars science exploration themes.

The first framing theme was "Follow the Water," as water is essential to life as we know it. It is also important to understanding the geologic and climatic history of Mars, as well as how it might support future human explorers. All are relevant to whether Mars ever had or still has conditions necessary to support life.

With past orbiters, landers, and rovers finding evidence of water, the theme "Explore Habitability" emerged to look for additional conditions necessary to life, including chemical elements and compounds necessary for life as we know it. Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover marks a transition to the current science theme: "Seek Signs of Life."

While Curiosity is seeking evidence of habitable conditions (both past water and the chemistry needed for life), under the science definition team's vision, Mars 2020 would potentially seek signs of past life itself in the geologic record. It would also potentially include experiments that would prepare for human exploration.

Connection to Mars Exploration Program Science Goals

This mission would contribute to the four main science goals of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. The specific ways in which this mission would make contributions to each science goal are currently under consideration.

Proposed Science Objectives for a Mars 2020 Rover

The objectives of this mission are currently under consideration. Based on the recommendations of the Science Definition Team, the Mars 2020 rover mission would have the following five potential objectives. Requiring both orbital and ground observations, the first three objectives have strong synergy, as they are linked by the need to decipher the geological processes and history of an "astrobiologically relevant ancient environment, " a place once capable of either supporting life as we know it or sustaining pre-biological processes leading to an origin of life.

Here's what the Mars 2020 rover would do:

Objective A: Habitability
Objective B: Biosignatures
Objective C: Sample Caching
Objective D: Prepare for Humans

Mars 2020 Science Objective A:

Characterize the processes that formed and modified the geologic record within a field exploration area on Mars selected for evidence of an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment and geologic diversity.

Mars 2020 Science Objective B:

Perform the following astrobiologically-relevant investigations on the geologic materials at the landing site:

  • Determine the habitability of an ancient environment.
  • For ancient environments interpreted to have been habitable, search for materials with high biosignature preservation potential.
  • Search for potential evidence of past life using the observations regarding habitability and preservation as a guide.

Mars 2020 Science Objective C:

Assemble a returnable cache of samples for possible future return to Earth.

  • Obtain samples that are scientifically selected, for which the field context is documented, that contain the most promising samples identified in Objective B and that represent the geologic diversity of the field site.
  • Ensure compliance with future needs in the areas of planetary protection and engineering so that the cache could be returned in the future if NASA chooses to do so.

Mars 2020 Science Objective D:

Contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars by making significant progress towards filling at least one major Strategic Knowledge Gap. The highest priority SKG measurements that are synergistic with Mars 2020 science objectives and compatible with the mission concept are (in priority order):

  1. Demonstration of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere for future exploration missions.
  2. Characterization of atmospheric dust size and morphology to understands its effects on the operation of surface systems and human health.
  3. Surface weather measurements to validate global atmospheric models.