Ideas Wanted for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover, But Government Shutdown Adds Challenge

NASA Mars Rover 2020 Design Sketch
A sketch of the design for NASA's 2020 Mars rover. Planning for NASA's 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on re-using the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with new science instruments selected through competition for accomplishing different science objectives with the 2020 mission. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA needs ideas for its next Mars rover, but the government shutdown might delay their arrival.

The space agency has put out an open call, asking scientists to submit proposals for the science and technology instruments that will fly aboard NASA's next Mars rover expected to launch in 2020. If the government shutdown continues, however, the competition — called the Mars 2020 Mission Investigations Announcement of Opportunity (AO) — might not go forward as planned.

"The Mars 2020 AO may be affected in a number of ways, if the Government is shut down for some duration," NASA officials wrote. "The preproposal conference, scheduled for 10/8, may be rescheduled and the due date for NOIs [Notices of Intent] (currently 10/15) could be delayed, if the government is still shut down closer to those dates." [Images: NASA's Next Mars Rover Launching in 2020]

The newly announced proposal competition asks researchers to submit a mission plan detailing the hardware, mission operations, data analysis and other information about what they would use a rover to investigate on Mars. The total cost available for the investigations is about $130 million.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover is expected to look somewhat like the space agency's Curiosity rover currently roaming the surface of the Red Planet, but its job will be different. The 2020 rover is slated to search for signs of past life on Mars and collect samples for an eventual return to Earth, NASA officials have said.

Curiosity's initial mission was focused on determining if life on Mars was ever possible. The rover settled that question in March when NASA announced that Curiosity's data shows that Mars could have supported primitive life in the past.

"The Mars 2020 mission will provide a unique capability to address the major questions of habitability and life in the solar system," Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington D.C. said in statement. "The science conducted by the rover's instruments also would expand our knowledge of Mars and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return any collected samples to Earth."

The 2020 rover might also help scientists pave the way for a possible manned mission to the Red Planet sometime in the future.

"The Mars 2020 rover will test technologies that are key to one-day landing human explorers on the Red Planet," Jason Crusan, director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division, said in a statement. "New technologies could allow astronauts to live off the land as they explore the ancient valleys of Mars. The capability to manufacture breathable air, rocket fuel, water and more may forever change how we explore space."

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Miriam Kramer
Miriam Kramer joined as a staff writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also serves as's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person.