NASA's follow-on Mars rover should not only look for signs of past life, but also prepare samples for an eventual return to Earth, a science advisory team said Tuesday.
The mission, called Mars 2020, would build on evidence already collected by NASA's Curiosity rover that the planet most like Earth in the solar system had at some point in its past all the ingredients and suitable environments to support microbial life.
PHOTOS: When Discovery News Met Mars Rover 'Curiosity'
Curiosity touched down in August 2012 inside an ancient impact basin called Gale Crater and hit pay dirt in its first detailed analysis of a piece of once water-soaked bedrock.
From that sample, scientists could not pin down exactly when the chemistry for life existed on Mars, but they hope to learn more when Curiosity analyzes rocks in and around Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered sediment rising from the crater's floor, which is the primary target for the two-year mission.
Mars 2020, which as the name implies will launch in 2020, would duplicate Curiosity's chassis and sky-crane landing system, but swap out its science instruments with new tools that would, in effect, put Mars under a microscope.