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NASA readying next Mars rover

The space agency says it's set to move forward on the final stages of design and construction.

NASA plans to land its new Mars rover on the Red Planet in 2021.
NASA plans to land its new Mars rover on the Red Planet in 2021.

NASA is set to take another crack at determining whether there's ever been life on Mars.

The space agency said Friday that it's ready to proceed with the final stages of design and construction of the new Mars rover, which should launch in summer 2020 and hit the Red Planet in February 2021.

If all goes as planned, the latest rover will explore and collect data about an ancient environment on Mars that may have been favorable to microbial life. The machine will gather soil and rock samples and "cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission," NASA said in its press release.

The rover will look very much like its predecessor, Curiosity, but will have new features that allow it to complete "the first investigation into the usability and availability of Martian resources, including oxygen, in preparation for human missions," NASA said.

The six-wheeled machine will also be equipped with cameras and a microphone that will "capture the never-before-seen-or-heard imagery and sounds of the entry, descent and landing sequence" of the rover, said NASA.