The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars.
The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. That would help scientists study the samples in laboratories with special room-sized equipment that would be too large to take to Mars.
The mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.
The mission is timed for a launch opportunity in July 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars. That is, it takes less power to travel to Mars at this time, compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits. To keep mission costs and risks as low as possible, the Mars 2020 design is based on NASA’s successful Mars Science Laboratory mission architecture, including its Curiosity rover and proven landing system.
The opportunity to send your name to Mars, which opened on May 21, 2019, comes with a souvenir boarding pass and “frequent flyer” points. This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA’s journey from the Moon to Mars. Miles (or kilometres) were awarded for each “flight,” with corresponding digital mission patches available for download. All submitted names were reviewed, approved and then etched onto a microchip. The microchip is placed aboard the Mars 2020 rover, which will land on Mars.