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July 30, 2020 - The largest and most capable rover NASA has ever sent to Mars will embark on a journey to search for evidence of past life on the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a mission to send humans into deep space.
A car-sized, six-wheeled rover named Perseverance will touch down inside the 45km-wide Jezero Crater, the site of a river delta 3.5 billion years ago, on Feb 18, 2021. The mission is expected to last at least one Martian year - or 687 Earth days.
A solar-powered drone, fitted to the underside of the rover, will release before touchdown, making it the first man-made object to fly on another planet. On future missions, this helicopter-type instrument could guide humans exploring Mars.
Once on site, the rover will look for signs of previously habitable conditions and past microbial life, and assess the challenges facing future human expeditions, including testing for a method of producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. It will also search for subsurface water, look at improved landing techniques and log weather, dust and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.
Mars 2020 will also collect and cache samples for future return to Earth, possibly by 2031.
The U.S. is not the only country sending unmanned spacecraft to Mars in the coming days. China and the United Arab Emirates are also launching probes with a view to sending their own astronauts in due course.