NASA kicked off a brand new period of Mars exploration Thursday with the profitable touchdown of Perseverance, a car-size robotic explorer that can seek for traces of historic life on the planet and gather what might be the primary rocky samples from Mars which can be despatched again to Earth.
The rover touched down at round 3:55 p.m. ET, after executing a daring and dramatic touchdown that had been nicknamed the “seven minutes of terror.” Perseverance is now NASA’s fifth rover to land on Mars and is ready to start a two-year mission to roam its floor and seek for indicators of historic microbial life.
It’s also the most recent of three new missions that arrived on the crimson planet in February. Earlier this month, two different spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates and China reached Mars and moved into orbit across the planet.
The much-anticipated Perseverance mission may reply key questions on Mars’ historical past and evolution, but it surely’s additionally an important stepping stone towards NASA’s purpose of sending people to discover the crimson planet.
For now, engineers on the company’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are respiratory an enormous sigh of aid. Solely round half of all earlier makes an attempt to land on Mars have succeeded, and the Perseverance rover’s deliberate landing was thought-about the riskiest and most difficult.
However the company is anticipating huge rewards from the $3 billion mission. The Perseverance rover shouldn’t be solely the company’s most subtle robotic explorer, but it surely’s additionally the primary stage of a broader initiative to gather samples of Martian rocks and sediments and ship them to Earth.
These efforts will assist pave the way in which for human exploration of the crimson planet, mentioned Janet Ivey, president of Discover Mars, a nonprofit group that advocates for sending astronauts to Mars.
“There’s an actual chance that the Perseverance mission will increase the probabilities of seeing people on Mars in my lifetime,” she mentioned. “We’re actually embarking on the grandest journey.”
The Perseverance rover landed in an space of Mars often called the Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide basin that lies simply north of the Martian equator.
There may be proof that an historic river as soon as flowed into Jezero, forming a delta billions of years in the past that had all the appropriate elements for all times to come up. It is on this area that Perseverance will be capable to examine rocks as outdated as 3.6 billion years and seek for biosignatures, or traces of natural matter, within the Martian sediments.
“We count on the very best locations to search for biosignatures could be in Jezero’s lakebed or in shoreline sediments that might be encrusted with carbonate minerals, that are particularly good at preserving sure sorts of fossilized life on Earth,” Ken Williford, deputy undertaking scientist for the Perseverance mission on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mentioned in a press release. “However as we seek for proof of historic microbes on an historic alien world, it’s necessary to maintain an open thoughts.”
The Perseverance rover, which launched into house in July 2020, is supplied with a drill, a 7-foot-long robotic arm and 7 completely different science devices.
The rover can be carrying a small helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, that might be used to aim the primary managed flight on one other planet. If profitable, the helicopter expertise might be groundbreaking for planetary science, mentioned Robert Zubrin, writer of “The Case for Mars” and founding father of The Mars Society, a nonprofit group that advocates for human exploration of the crimson planet.
“Rovers can journey a pair hundred meters a day, however a flight automobile may do this in a pair seconds,” Zubrin mentioned. “Ten years from now, we may ship helicopters to Mars that fly round, land someplace and let unfastened rovers to do some science in a selected space. That will be unbelievable.”
Along with the helicopter take a look at, the Perseverance rover will take measurements of Martian climate, monitor mud storms, use radar devices to probe geologic options underground and conduct experiments to see if oxygen for respiratory and propellant may be produced from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich ambiance — an important concern if NASA intends to ultimately ship astronauts to the crimson planet.
“If we go to Mars, we won’t depend on sending all the things from Earth,” mentioned Chris Carberry, co-founder and CEO of Discover Mars. “This experiment is designed to see if we will reside off the land.”
Perseverance will even gather samples of Martian rocks and sediments in tubes that might be saved for future missions. The rover is able to gathering greater than 30 separate samples, in response to NASA.
For the subsequent part of the sample-return initiative, NASA has partnered with the European Area Company. A subsequent mission will first deploy a small rover to retrieve the cached samples, load them right into a single canister after which launch it into orbit round Mars. The third and last stage entails sending a spacecraft to seize the basketball-size container from Mars orbit and at last return to Earth in 2031.
This frenzy of exercise means Mars will doubtless be the main target of loads of consideration over the subsequent decade. Perseverance’s arrival at Mars was preceded by the 2 different spacecraft — launched by the UAE and China — which can be additionally starting new missions on the crimson planet.
The Hope probe, designed to function as a climate satellite tv for pc across the crimson planet, efficiently slipped into Mars orbit on Feb. 9, making the UAE solely the fifth nation or entity to realize such a feat. Lower than 24 hours later, China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover additionally safely entered into orbit round Mars, marking a big accomplishment for the nation’s quickly advancing house program.
Few particulars have been made public about China’s Tianwen-1 mission, however the orbiter is designed to circle the crimson planet and map the Martian floor utilizing a radar instrument that may measure properties of soil and water-ice. China will try and land its rover on Mars someday in Could.
The eye on the crimson planet from a number of house companies might be a boon for planetary science and Mars exploration. “It is thrilling as a result of it isn’t only one nation — all people’s eyes are on Mars,” Ivey mentioned.
She added that the Perseverance mission is a welcome distraction from the previous yr, when the world was first upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Area unites us as a result of it is inspirational and aspirational,” Ivey mentioned. “Watching practically inconceivable engineering feats truly occur could make you go: Good issues are doable. And nice issues lie forward.”