NASA is still storming on with their missions this time with a Mars lander that is intended to launch in 2020. This is one of the big steps in the grand plan of getting a human to walk on Mars in the 203os and so this lander will be performing some side missions to gather data that will help reach that goal such as testing the Martian atmosphere to see whether an oxygen extraction system could be created and whether there is any subterranean water to be found. The primary objective is to see whether there was any possibility that life could of existed far into the past through the study of locations most likely to contain traces if they exist.
One of the large talking points of this project is the sterilisation of both the rover and its vessel. When the Viking probes were sent to Mars in their search for life they wanted to be sure and so made certain that not a single micro-organism could have taken refuge in the ship. Apart from the sterile vacuum conditions in construction, once made the probes were baked and irradiated before being sent on their way. Since it was all waste and nothing was found, following missions, that did not require such strenuous cleanliness, simple had their mechanisms wiped down with alcohol. This project is apparently returning to the original sterile conditions in order to ensure the validity of any life signs found. Of course possibly the comedic twist at the end of this is that there has still yet to be authorisation for a mission to return the rover. This could lead to the samples getting stranded off world and although some data can be sent back the ideal situation would be to examine the samples here on Earth where hopefully the more advanced analytical machines that can’t be sent there will show some results. Although I am not optimistic about the odds of finding even the most basic amino acid I still am glad that the Mars missions are continuing at a steady pace.
NASA article: Mars 2020 Mission Overview