Mars is the next frontier of space exploration. But before we can send a human crew to Mars, we need to learn more about our neighboring Red Planet.
NASA scientists intend to do just that with the Mars 2020 rover. The currently-unnamed rover will pave the way for future study and exploration on Mars to prepare for a human expedition.
What is the Mars 2020 rover?
Previously, NASA has sent rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity to Mars, as well as the InSight lander. The Mars 2020 rover will continue the important work and legacy of robotic Martian exploration.
However, the Mars 2020 mission is different. This mission is more urgent, as the possibility of humans on Mars moves from science fiction and into reality.
The Mars 2020 rover is about the size of a small car, weighing 2,300 pounds. Depending on conditions, the rover will launch somewhere between July 17 and August 5, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The 2020 rover will land on Mars on February 18, 2021. The total length of the mission will be 687 Earth days, or one Martian year.
The Mars 2020 mission is significant because it’s a stepping stone to putting humans on Mars. During its mission, the 2020 rover will look for evidence of microbial life, study Martian climate and geology, and collect samples.
Our next trip to Mars
NASA won’t send a rover to Mars without years of testing.
The Mars 2020 rover contains a wide range of instruments on board to test conditions on Mars. It’s critical to ensure all instruments and systems will survive the trip to Mars, impact upon landing, and a year on the Red Planet.
NASA engineers coded software for the Mars 2020 rover in 2013. Using virtual workstations, the team input test data to run simulations with this software. After years of perfecting the system, it’s time for scientists to test the software and hardware together.
In January of 2019, scientists at the California Jet Propulsion Laboratory tested the actual components that will be on board the 2020 rover.
This testing measured the rover’s performance during a Martian landing as well as deep space travel. Tests allowed the team to plan disaster scenarios and contingencies based on this important data. During this time, NASA conducted four successful rover launches and two successful test landings.
Now the team is measuring the rover’s ability to withstand extreme vibration and temperature. Currently, scientists are testing the Mars 2020 rover within the Space Simulator Facility.
The Space Simulator Facility has been used since the 1960s. It fills with liquid nitrogen and cools the vacuum chamber to -200 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme temperature gives scientists peace of mind that the mechanics will function in deep space.
The U.S. will send humans to the Moon by 2024. The Moon is a testing bed for Mars, but it’s not the only way we’re gathering data. At the same time, NASA will be studying the surface of Mars through the 2020 rover.
Although it will likely be decades before we send humans to Mars, you can still visit the Red Planet. NASA allows the public to put their names on a chip aboard the Mars rover. This dime-sized microchip can hold up to a million names.
If you’re interested in boarding the Mars 2020 rover yourself, sign up here.