Mars 2020 rover will carry weather instruments to research future manned missions


Artist’s concept for the Mars 2020 rover, with modifications based on the science definition team’s recommendations. (NASA)

In a televised event on Thursday, NASA announced its lineup of instruments to be developed for the Mars 2020 Rover on Thursday, and a Martian-quality weather station is among the seven proposals chosen for the mission.

The instrument is called the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyser (MEDA), and contains sensors for measuring temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust particles.

According to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, weather instruments will help NASA achieve the amazing. “Better understanding the Martian dust and weather will be valuable data for planning human Mars missions,” says Gerstenmaier. “Testing ways to extract these resources and understand the environment will help make the pioneering of Mars feasible.”

In addition to the MEDA instrument, the rover will also be equipped with an exploratory technology that hopes to produce breathable oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. It will also explore the possibility of making rocket fuel from the resources found on Mars. “This technology demonstration will pave the way for more affordable human missions to Mars where oxygen is needed for life support and rocket propulsion,” said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Space Technology Mission Directorate.


Mars Curiosity selfie. Location of weather station (REMS) circled in red. (NASA modified by CWG)

In January, 58 proposals for rover instruments were submitted to NASA for consideration, which was twice the normal amount of submissions received in previous competitions. The seven that were chosen will cost about $130 million to develop. The previous Mars rover mission, Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. Curiosity), cost $2.5 billion. The Mars 2020 rover and mission will be mostly based on the design of Curiosity, the plucky little rover with a Twitter account that has been scooting along the surface of Mars since August 2012.

Even without rover data, we know the weather on Mars is going to be chilly for human missions. While highs of 70 degrees Fahrenheit are possible at the equator, they also dip to a crisp -225 degrees at the poles. Curiosity itself has been experiencing highs around 20 degrees and lows of -100 degrees recently.

Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist and The Post's deputy weather editor.
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Angela Fritz · July 31, 2014