Was there life on Mars? Could humans explore the Red Planet? The Mars 2020 mission wants to answer these questions.

By Elizabeth Rhodes
June 20, 2020
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NASA/JPL-Caltech

Time and time again, we wonder whether we’re really alone in this vast universe. Scientists debate the presence of extraterrestrial life in our solar system and beyond, and this year, we inch closer to a conclusion. Was there life on Mars? The next phase of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program hopes to find answers. This July, the Mars 2020 mission will launch as NASA sends its Perseverance rover to the Red Planet for further exploration.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars for years, giving humans a glimpse into this mysterious planet by collecting data and taking photos, showing us what Mars is actually like. This rover launched in 2011, and has since traveled almost 14 miles across Mars, capturing over 600,000 images while gathering information about the geology of the planet.

What is Mars 2020?

The Mars 2020 mission is the next step in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The Perseverance rover will be launched into space in July 2020 during a window of time when Earth and Mars are in positions that make it easier to achieve a Mars landing. This mission will be “not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself” by collecting samples of rock and soil, according to NASA.

The NASA website further states that “the mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars,” by identifying resources, improving landing techniques for future missions, and learning about the environmental conditions of the planet that could impact future astronauts who visit.

An engineer working on NASA's Mars 2020 mission uses a solar intensity probe to measure and compare the amount of artificial sunlight that reaches different portions of the rover.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

When will the Perseverance rover launch into space? 

The launch window is from July 20 to August 11, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with a projected landing date of February 18, 2021. The mission is scheduled to last at least one Mars Year, which is about 687 Earth days.

What is NASA’s Mars Exploration Program? 

The Mars Exploration Program is NASA’s long-term program exploring Mars. This program looks into understanding the history of the climate and geology of Mars and the potential to one day send humans to the Red Planet, among other aspects. According to the NASA website, the Perseverance rover has four objectives that support this program’s goal, including “looking for habitability, seeking biosignatures (signs of past life), caching samples, and preparing for humans by testing oxygen production.” With this knowledge, we’ll be one step closer to understanding whether there was ever life on Mars and the planet's potential for human exploration in the future.