Even though the Red Planet is now cold and dry, the landing site, Jezero Crater, was filled with a 1,600-foot (500-meter) deep lake that opened to a network of rivers some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.
A similar discovery would mark a new era in the exploration of Mars, which started in 1965 when the U.S. launched its first mission to the red planet.
"Mars had conditions more similar to Earth early on - in the first billion years - so what may have been happening in our solar system that allowed life to start on this planet may also be evident on Mars itself". "This will bring new insights on Mars formation and evolution that remains largely unconstrained".
"Mars is really the obvious place, after the Moon, to go and expand our presence in deep space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate.
The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered Mars 2020 rover is built on the same basic design as NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars' Gusev Crater for more than six years.
"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive", said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies", he said.
The lander will enter Mars' atmosphere and land on a flat equatorial plain north of the planet's equator known as the Elysium Planitia.
Make sure you visit Metro.co.uk on the day as well to get all the news about this historic Mars landing. Scientists and engineers are working hard on all the hardware that the rover will use to do its job, but up until today, NASA still hadn't actually decided where on the Red Planet the rover would land. The primary mission is to help scientists better understand how Mars turned into a dry, barren planet.
A pair of tiny satellites that traveled with InSight, called Mars Cube One or MarCO, may ease the wait.