If NASA realizes its midsummer dream, a spacecraft will blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, sometime between 22 July and 11 August, destined to ignite the next generation of Mars exploration. The mission, which NASA has dubbed Mars 2020, aims to deliver the space agency’s latest rover, Perseverance, to an uncharted crater known as Jezero—an ancient lake bed that could offer a window into Mars’s climatic history.
Perseverance will haul an abundance of technology, including a small helicopter and a novel array of 43 sample tubes, robotic arms, and multiple drills, which will bore into the martian surface for chalk-size cores of rock and soil. The cores will eventually make their way back to Earth via the Mars Sample Return Campaign, a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency. Should they contain organic compounds, they may indicate the existence of past microorganisms—in other words, evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.