NASA’s latest Mars rover Perseverance program launched on Thursday. It is an astrobiological mission to find the vital signs of ancient microbes and to bring a helicopter drone to another world for the first time.
It is scheduled to take off on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 7:50 am (5:20 pm Eastern Standard Time) in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA.
If everything goes according to plan, Perseverance will reach the Red Planet on February 18, 2021, becoming the fifth rover to complete its voyage since 1997.
So far, they are all Americans. China launched its first Mars probe last week, which will arrive in May 2021.
Therefore, by next year, Mars may have three active Mars rovers, including NASA’s Curiosity, which has traversed the Red Planet 23 kilometers (14 miles) since landing in 2012.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday before the launch: “There is no doubt that this is a challenge. There is no other way.”
He said: “Speaking of which, we know how to land on Mars. We have done it eight times. This will be the ninth time.”
Perseverance was developed at the legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and is an improved version of Curiosity.
It is faster, is equipped with more robust six wheels, has greater computing power, and can autonomously navigate 200 meters per day.
It is only the size of a small SUV, weighs a ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones. Scientists hope this will be the first device to record sound on Mars.
It has a two-meter-long robotic arm and is powered by a small nuclear generator.
Once surfaced, NASA will deploy the Ingenuity Mars helicopter-a 1.8 kg (four pound) aircraft that will attempt to fly in an atmosphere that accounts for only 1% of the earth’s density.
The idea is to come up with a proof of concept that one day may completely change planetary exploration, because the entire life cycle of the rover can only cover tens of kilometers and is vulnerable to sand dunes and other obstacles over 40 cm (15 inches).
The main task of Perseverance is to search the earth for evidence of ancient life forms.
Scientists believe that 3 billion years ago, the earth was much warmer than it is today and was covered by rivers and lakes. Such conditions may lead to simple microbial life.
Today we know that the reason it has become a cold, barren world is not fully understood.
Another initiative: Perseverance drilling will collect about 30 complete cores and put them in test tubes for future collection of the US-European joint mission.
NASA’s chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen said on Tuesday that only before the analysis of these samples in the next decade, if it exists, irrefutable evidence of Martian past lives is likely to be unproven.
“What we are looking for may be very primitive life, we are not looking for advanced life forms that may be bones or fern fossils,” project scientist Ken Farley explained.
NASA chose Jezero Crater as its landing site, a huge impact basin north of the Martian equator.
Three to four billion years ago, a river flowed into a large area of water there.
Scientists believe that the ancient delta region may have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life.
If the conditions on the dust storm planet are bad, and the night temperature drops to minus 90 degrees Celsius (minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit), then it does have a major advantage: no plate tectonics. On Earth, it is very difficult to find a landscape that has remained unchanged for 3 billion years.
Lori Graz, director of the NASA Planetary Science Division, said: “Mars is preserved on some extremely complex and diverse geological surfaces.”
More than 350 geologists, geochemists, astrobiologists, atmospheric experts and other scientists from all over the world participated in this mission.
It is expected to last at least two years, but considering the endurance shown by previous roamers, it may be longer.
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