The Mars 2020 rover, which sets off for the Red Planet next year, will not only search for traces of ancient life, but pave the way for future human missions, NASA scientists said Friday as they unveiled the vehicle.
The rover has been constructed in a large, sterile room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, where its driving equipment was given its first successful test last week.
Shown to invited journalists on Friday, it is scheduled to leave Earth in July 2020 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, becoming the fifth US rover to land on Mars seven months later in February.
“It’s designed to seek the signs of life, so we’re carrying a number of different instruments that will help us understand the geological and chemical context on the surface of Mars,” deputy mission leader Matt Wallace told AFP.
Among the devices on board the rover are 23 cameras, two “ears” that will allow it to listen to Martian winds, and lasers used for chemical analysis.
Approximately the size of a car, the rover is equipped with six wheels like its predecessor Curiosity, allowing it to traverse rocky terrain.
Speed is not a priority for the vehicle, which only has to cover around 200 yards (180 metres) per Martian day – approximately the same as a day on Earth.
Fuelled by a miniature nuclear reactor, Mars 2020 has seven-foot-long (two metre) articulated arms and a drill to crack open rock samples in locations scientists identify as potentially suitable for life.