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NASA plans next-gen scientific tools for 2020 Mars rover

Sharon Gaudin | Aug. 1, 2014
NASA has planned out the new and improved scientific instruments that will be included onboard the next robotic Mars rover. The instruments will look for signs of past life and the ability to create oxygen and rocket fuel on the Red Planet.

He added that the payload of instruments has an international representation, with more than 50 institutions worldwide involved in their design and creation.

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said there's a lot of interest in the rover's attempting to create oxygen on the Red Planet.

"Can we actually produce oxygen and at what rates can we produce it?" he asked. "If we can get oxygen that you don't have to carry to Mars, that changes everything. If we can create oxygen and have it sitting in tanks waiting for astronauts to get there, that changes everything... This is kind of the first step to go look at oxygen."

The oxygen, besides playing a critical role in creating breathable air and rocket propellant, also could be used to grow food on Mars.

"We've seen water on Mars so we can make oxygen and hydrogen out of that, and we can use the water itself," Gerstenmaier said. "And all of that can be used to grow vegetation that you might need on Mars... The first step, though, is a fairly simple one. Let's see what we can do with oxygen first and then we'll look at other steps."

Rover 2020 also will have a greater focus on studying mineralogy on Mars because the planet's minerals will play a key role in helping scientists unravel its secrets.

"Some minerals require water to be made," Stofan said. "So if there are certain minerals present, it shows us that there was water there."

Grunsfeld said minerals also differ depending on the pressure and environment in which they were formed.

"The [planet's] words and its story are written in minerals," he noted. "This rover will look at the minerals and tell us about the history of Mars, the story of Mars."


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