WASHINGTON — NASA on July 9 released a 154-page report that recommends sending a near-clone of the $2.5 billion Curiosity rover to Mars at the end of the decade to look for signs of past life, collect samples for eventual return to Earth and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration of the red planet.

NASA chartered the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team in January to scope out instruments for the proposed rover mission that will meet the project’s budget, deadline and goals. NASA officials have said they expect to leverage Curiosity’s design to build a differently outfitted clone for about $1 billion less than the original. 

“The [Science Definition Team’s] evaluation of the 2020 opportunity for Mars finds that pioneering Mars science can be accomplished within the available resources and that the mission concept of a science caching rover, if implemented, would address the highest priority, community-vetted goals and objectives for Mars exploration,” the report states. “It would achieve high-quality science through the proposed suite of nested, coordinated measurements and would result in NASA’s first Mars mission configured to cache samples for possible return to Earth at a later date.”

In a statement, John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said that mission objectives determined by NASA with input from the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team “will become the basis later this year for soliciting proposals to provide instruments to be part of the science payload on this exciting step in Mars exploration.”

The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team was led by Brown University professor Jack Mustard and was composed of 19 scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations.  

The full report can be read here.


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Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. He was named senior staff writer in 2004, a position he held...