An artistic impression of the Perseverance Rover and the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars
NASA / JPL-Caltech
NASA has sent a life hunter to Mars. The Perseverance rover, which will search for signs of life from the past or the present on the Red Planet, started on July 30th.
If all goes well, the rover will land on Mars in February 2021 and use a sophisticated set of scientific instruments, including 23 cameras, to study the planet's climate and geology.
"Perseverance will bring all human senses to Mars," said NASB's Thomas Zurbuchen during a press conference on July 20. "It will feel the air around it, see and scan the horizon, hear the planet for the first time with microphones on the surface, feel it when it takes samples in order to store them in a sense, maybe even taste them," he said it does chemical analyzes of the dust, he said.
As soon as Perseverance lands on the surface of Mars, a small helicopter called Ingenuity is released from its underside. "We humans have never flown a rotary wing helicopter anywhere outside of Earth's atmosphere, so it's really a Wright Brothers moment on another planet," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity's chief engineer, during the press conference.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration and will fly for a maximum of 15 minutes. In the future, however, such helicopters could be used to locate inaccessible areas or act as scouts for rovers and astronauts, Aung said.
The rover will also conduct another technology demonstration, an instrument for extracting oxygen from carbon dioxide in the thin Martian atmosphere that future researchers may need to do to survive. "Endurance is also the bridge between science and human exploration, which shows how the two can support and strengthen each other," said Zurbuchen.
The main scientific goal of the mission is to search for signs of life on Mars, regardless of whether this life is ancient and long dead or still exists today. This is the first Mars mission to explicitly search for life since the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions in the late 1970s.
"It is exciting that NASA is following the water and looking for signs of habitability to look for signs of real life," said Sarah Stewart Johnson of Georgetown University in Washington DC. "It was so long" follow the water "and we always found the water – we found swimming pools and swimming pools worth water."
Now that we know that Mars has the ingredients for life – and that it was probably much warmer and wetter a long time ago than today – we are better equipped to look for signs of this life. Even if we find evidence that there may once have been living organisms on Mars, we are unlikely to be sure until we can bring that evidence back to Earth and study it in the laboratory, Johnson says.
Perseverance is preparing for it. It will take a number of samples as it rolls over the surface of Mars, and while unable to send those samples back to Earth, NASA has planned another mission in 2026 that will take them back and return them for analysis.
"If we could find evidence of life, even if it was very small, it would be completely transformative," says Johnson. "If we could find a microbe that appears on the next planet when lightning strikes twice in this corner of the solar system, it would mean that our entire universe could have life on many, many planets, and not just us, the dark one Night."
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