NASA has unveiled its new improved space robot with 23 eyes to hunt for life on Mars.
The Mars 2020 Rover will blast off in a $2 billion mission scientists hope will settle once and for all if there are aliens on the Red Planet — or if they used to exist there.
It’s equipped with a total of 23 cameras that will be able to zoom in on clues the size of a grain of salt.
The space agency spent at least $134 million designing seven new instruments to sniff the atmosphere and analyze samples of rock and dust from above and below the surface.
The robot is due to be launched in July or August 2020 and will arrive the following year.
It will then spend at least two years roaming the planet seeking out signs of microbial life, although the mission could be extended for years after that.
Seven science cameras will provide detailed high-res images of the samples the robot collects.
Nine engineering cameras facing in all directions will allow mission controllers to steer it safely around the rocky surface.
And seven more cameras will film the craft’s precarious descent and landing — the most crucial moment of the mission, described as “seven minutes of hell.”
Its predecessor, the Mars Curiosity Rover, landed in 2012 and is still providing scientists with useful data — including the discovery earlier this year of boron, a key ingredient of life.
Ken Farley, a Mars 2020 project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer.”
“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe.”
The 2020 Rover is based on the successful Curiosity and Opportunity models but with all-new wheels and a range of new instruments.
The NASA lab also is developing new landing technology that will allow the rover to visit parts of Mars deemed too risky for previous missions.
Shortlisted sites to study include areas known to have been rich in water around 3.5 billion years ago.
This means they could have hosted primitive life forms such as bacteria.
The mission differs from the four previous Mars rovers in that it will actively seek evidence of past life rather than conditions that could have supported life.
Rock and soil samples will be packaged into 30 sealed containers ready for transport back to Earth by a future spaceship.
The robot will also assess the natural resources available and the potential hazards for future manned missions to the Red Planet.