NASA is gearing up to launch a historic mission to Mars—one that will hunt for signs of life that may have once lived on the Red Planet. The mission, which is currently dubbed Mars 2020, builds on the previous Mars rover Curiosity and will deploy to the site of what was once a lake and river delta, 3.5 billion years ago. Along with hunting for biosignatures—chemical and molecular fossils that provide scientific confirmation of past life—Mars 2020 will also test out technologies that address challenges facing the longer-term goal of human exploration.
In late 2019, Fast Company went inside the clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the rover is currently being built and fine-tuned. “We’re hoping to answer the fundamental question of whether life could have evolved someplace other than Earth,” says deputy project manager Matt Wallace. “We’ve gotten to the doorstep on that question, and it’s time to walk through the door.”