Space is hard on humans. It’s just not what we’re used to, because it’s very unlike this Earth most of us generally occupy for most of our lives. That’s why researchers do plenty of experimentation to figure out what it’s like for people to live and work in space.
This month is a very special one for the folks at NASA. The space agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, sure, but that’s not the only reason. You see, today, July 17th, 2019, is exactly one year away from the launch of the Mars 2020 mission, and things are rapidly beginning to take shape.
The mission will see the most advanced Mars rover ever built travel to the Red Planet and touch down in a location known as the Jezero Crater. There, the robot will depart the Mars 2020 lander and explore the Martian terrain, offering new clues about the planet’s history and perhaps even revealing whether or not Mars ever hosted life.
The Mars 2020 mission has been a long time coming. Huge projects like this take a long, long time to plan, develop, prototype, and build. In this case, it will have been over seven years since the Mars 2020 project began when the July 17th launch finally happens.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. The mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.
The mission is timed for a launch opportunity in July/August 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars. That is, it takes less power to travel to Mars at this time, compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits. To keep mission costs and risks as low as possible, the Mars 2020 design is based on NASA’s successful Mars Science Laboratory mission architecture, including its Curiosity rover and proven landing system.
Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of next year and will land on Mars in February 2021.