NASA’s most advanced Mars rover, Perseverance, launches from Earth on July 30, on a mission to Find Signals of Early microbial life on Which was Formerly a river delta three-and-a-half billion years ago.
If the SUV-sized vehicle touch down unscathed, it is going to begin collecting and storing rock and soil samples, to be recovered by a future mission and brought back to Earth in 2031.
Perseverance follows in the tire tracks of four rovers before it, all American, which first launched in the late 1990s.
Together with surface and satellite probes, they’ve altered our understanding of Mars, demonstrating the Red Planet wasn’t always a cold and barren place.
Rather, it had the ingredients for life as we understand it: water, organic chemicals, and a favorable climate.
Scientists will analyze the samples acquired by Perseverance to look for fossilised bacteria and other microbes to try and confirm if aliens did once live in our neighboring world.
NASA has been teleworking for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the launch calendar for this $2.7 billion (approximately Rs. 20,340 crores) mission hasn’t been affected.
“This assignment was one of two assignments that we protected to be sure that we were likely to have the ability to launch in July,” said NASA chief Jim Bridestine.
Earth and Mars are on the same side of the Sun every 26 months, a window which can not be missed.
America is the only nation on the planet to have landed robots on Mars: four landers, that aren’t mobile, and the rovers Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity.
Of the rovers, only Curiosity is still active, with the others left on the surface following their machinery failed or contact was lost.
It’s only in the past two decades that it’s been confirmed Mars once had oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Curiosity affirmed the existence of complex organic molecules — but its tools aren’t capable of concluding that they were created by biological processes.
“In the time that the experiment for life detection was regarded as a complete collapse,” said G. Scott Hubbard, who launched the current Mars exploration program at the 2000s.
NASA then made a decision to proceed in phases.
By analyzing the soil, analysing the molecular makeup of stones, and carrying satellite observations, geologists and astrobiologists slowly realized where water had flowed, and what regions could have been conducive to life.
“Understanding where Mars could have been habitable in the past, and what sort of fingerprints of lifestyle you’re looking for, was a essential precursor to then moving, at significant expense, to this very well selected spot that could produce those samples,” said Hubbard.
On February 18 2021, Perseverance should property at the Jezero Crater, home to an ancient river which fanned out to a lake between three and four billion years ago, depositing mud, sand, and sediment.
“Jezero is host to one of the finest preserved deltas on the surface of Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, a member of the science group.
On earth, scientists have found the fossilised remains of bacteria centuries old in similar ancient deltas.
The six-wheeled rover is three meters long, weighs a lot, has 19 cameras, two microphones and a two-meter-long robotic arm.
Its most important tools are just two lasers as well as an X-ray that, when projected rocks, can analyse their chemical composition and identify possible organic compounds.
Also on board is your experimental mini-helicopter Ingenuity, which weighs 1.8 kilograms. NASA hopes it will be the first chopper to take flight on another world.
Perseverance probably won’t have the ability to ascertain whether a stone has ancient microbes.
To know for sure, the samples might need to be brought back to Earth where they are sometimes cut into ultra-thin slices.
“Obtaining true scientific consensus… that life once existed on Mars, I believe that would still require a sample return,” Ken Williford, deputy head of the science project told AFP.
1 thing we shouldn’t expect are the fossilised shells which folks find on Earth, he added.
If life once did exist on Mars, it probably did not have time to evolve into more complex organisms until the planet dried up completely.