NASA really wants to put another rover on the surface of Mars in 2020. The goals of that mission are still being ironed out, but a panel of 19 scientists appointed by the space agency have come up with some rather compelling suggestions. Over the course of a 154-page document, which will serve as the starting point, the scientists propose that looking for signs of life and testing out technologies for a future manned mission should be high on the list of objectives. The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team wants the next rover, based on Curiosity's design, to look for biosignatures and fossilized evidence of former life on the red planet. In addition, they're calling for the rover to serve as a sort of screener for rock and soil samples, by analyzing them and saving particularly interesting ones for return to Earth for further investigation. The team is proposing room for as many as 31 samples which would be retrieved later by a manned mission.
The next step will be for NASA officials to sit down with the sizable tome, and probably a few of the panel members, to figure out what the highest priority objectives are and what is feasible given technological and budgetary constraints. Then it will begin accepting proposals for instrumentation to be loaded on the new rover. One of the more ambitious proposals is to demonstrate technology for collecting carbon dioxide which could be used to make oxygen and rocket fuel. If you're interested, the entire report can be found at the source.
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