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Mars Astrobiology Field Lab Rover
Missions to Mars
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Mars Astrobiology Field Lab Rover Mission to Mars

Mission Type: Rover
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center
Spacecraft Instruments: 10 Instruments -- Remote Sensing (2), Contact Arm Instruments (2), Analytical Laboratory Instruments (6).
Spacecraft Power: MSL Heritage Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), 8 General Purpose Heat Source Modules, Power = 125 W
Total Cost: Approximately $2 billion cap
NASA's Mars Exploration Program (MEP)

Research Paper: A Concept for NASA's Mars 2016 Astrobiology Field Laboratory

The Mars Astrobiology Field Laboratory Rover (MAFL) would be the first mission since Viking in the 1970s to look specifically for evidence of past or present life. The robotic lab would carry instruments for identifying and measuring the chemical building blocks for life (as we know it), including thousands of carbon-carrying compounds, elements such as sulfur and nitrogen, and oxidation states of trace metals associated with life. It would conduct detailed analysis of geologic environments identified by the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory as being conducive to life.

Such environments might include fine-grained sedimentary layers, hot spring mineral deposits, icy layers near the poles, or sites such as gullies where liquid water once flowed or may continue to seep into soils from melting ice packs. MAFL would be the next logical on site search platform that would follow the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched in 2005), Phoenix lander (launched in 2007), the Curiousity rover and other future missions to Mars.

Specific goals of the MAFL include: identifying and classifying Martian environments (past or present) with different habitability potential, and characterize their geologic context. It will quantitatively assess habitability potential by:

  • Measuring isotopic, chemical, mineralogical, and structural characteristics of samples, including the distribution and molecular complexity of carbon compounds.
  • Assessing biologically available sources of energy, including chemical, thermal and electromagnetic.
  • Determining the role of water (past or present) in the geological processes at the landing site.
  • Investigate the factors that will affect the preservation of potential signs of life (past or present) This refers to the potential for a particular biosignature to survive and therefore be detected in a particular habitat. Also, post-collection preservation may be required for later sample retrieval, although that would necessitate a further assessment of precision landing of a Mars sample return mission.
  • Investigate the possibility of prebiotic chemistry on Mars, including non-carbon biochemistry.
  • Document any anomalous features that can be hypothesized as possible Martian biosignatures.

Key Dates
This is a mission concept. No launch date has been determined yet.
Fast Facts
MAFL Facts The rover will search for chemistry associated with life, also known as biosignatures, such as carbon-based compounds along with molecules involving both sulfur and nitrogen.

Mars is a natural first target in the robotic exploration and search for extraterrestrial life. It is the most Earth-like of all the worlds in our solar system.

Mars is cold and dry now, but evidence shows it may have once had a warmer, wetter past.
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Last Updated: 30 Nov 2010