National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA will launch their most advanced Mars rover, ‘Perseverance’ from planet Earth on July 30, on a lofty mission; a search for signs of ancient microbial life on what was once a river delta three-and-a-half billion years ago.
Main Job: The Perseverance rover will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth. The interplanetary voyage will last six months.
NASA says if the Perseverance can touch down unscathed, it will start collecting and storing rock and soil samples, to be retrieved by a future mission and brought back to Earth in 2031.
The Perseverance is about the size of a modern SUV, a veritable six-wheeler. It is three meters long, weighs a ton, has 19 cameras, two microphones and a two-meter-long robotic arm.
NASA says the Rover’s most important features are two lasers and an X-ray which, when projected on rocks, can analyze their chemical composition and identify possible organic compounds.
On board the large interplanetary vehicle, is an experimental mini-helicopter Ingenuity, which weighs 1.8 kilograms. NASA has expressed hopes that it will break records as the first chopper to take flight on another planet.
Perseverance, like four previous American satellites, the first of which launched in the late 1990s works with satellite and surface probes, vastly improving the human knowledge on Mars, showing that the Red Planet wasn’t always a cold and barren place.
Instead, it had the ingredients for life as we know it: water, organic compounds and a favorable climate.
Scientists will examine the samples obtained by Perseverance to look for fossilized bacteria and other microbes to try to confirm if aliens did once live on our neighboring planet.
On February 18 2021, Perseverance is scheduled to land in the Jezero Crater, home to an ancient river that fanned out into a lake between three and four billion years ago, depositing mud, sand and sediment.
“Jezero is host to one of the best preserved deltas on the surface of Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, a member of the science team.
Scientists have found the fossilized remains of bacteria billions of years old in similar ancient deltas here on planet Earth.
NASA has been teleworking for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the launch calendar for this $2.7 billion mission hasn’t been affected. Earth and Mars are on the same side of the Sun every 26 months, a window that can’t be missed.
It’s only in the past two decades that it’s been confirmed Mars once had oceans, rivers and lakes.
Previous U.S Rover, Curiosity confirmed the presence of complex organic molecules — but its instruments were not capable of concluding that they were created by biological processes.
The first two landers, Viking 1 and 2, both looked for signs of life as far back as 1976, but haphazardly.
NASA then decided to proceed in stages. By studying the soil, analyzing the molecular composition of rocks, and carrying out satellite observations, geologists and astrobiologists gradually understood where water had flowed, and what areas could have been conducive to life.
“Understanding where Mars would have been habitable in the past, and what kind of fingerprints of life you’re looking for, was a necessary precursor to then going, at significant expense, to this very well selected spot that would produce these samples”, said Scott Hubbard, who launched the current Mars exploration program in the 2000s.
To determine for sure whether or not the selected area contains ancient microbes, Perseverance will have to bring back rock samples, which on arrival into Earth will be cut into ultra-thin slices.