The key to understanding the past, present or future potential for life on Mars can be found in the four broad, overarching goals for Mars Exploration:
- Goal 1: Determine if life ever arose on Mars.
- Goal 2: Characterize the climate of Mars.
- Goal 3: Characterize the geology of Mars.
- Goal 4: Prepare for human exploration of Mars.
To discover the possibilities for life on Mars--past, present or our own in the future--the Mars Program has developed an exploration strategy known as "Follow the Water."
Following the water begins with an understanding of the current environment on Mars. We want to explore observed features like dry riverbeds, ice in the polar caps and rock types that only form when water is present. We want to look for hot springs, hydrothermal vents or subsurface water reserves. We want to understand if ancient Mars once held a vast ocean in the northern hemisphere as some scientists believe and how Mars may have transitioned from a more watery environment to the dry and dusty climate it has today. Searching for these answers means delving into the planet's geologic and climate history to find out how, when and why Mars underwent dramatic changes to become the forbidding, yet promising, planet we observe today.
To pursue these goals, all of our future missions will be driven by rigorous scientific questions that will continuously evolve as we make new discoveries.
New technologies will enable us to explore Mars in ways we never have before, resulting in higher-resolution images, precision landings, longer-ranging surface mobility and even the return of Martian soil and rock samples for studies in laboratories on Earth.