Mars 2020 | NOVA

Feb 11, 2021

Wed. Feb. 24 at 9pm on WKAR-HD 23.1 & STREAMING | NASA scientists are about to get one step closer to knowing what, if anything, has lived on Mars, with the launch of the Mars 2020 spacecraft that occurred at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

The mission is taking a rover called Perseverance and the first-ever space helicopter to the red planet, hopefully arriving in February 2021. The objectives of the mission center on detecting Mars’ habitability and even signs of past life as well as conducting experiments that investigate the possibility of human exploration.

One of Perseverance’ main goals will be to collect samples that could prove Mars was once home to microscopic life. Understanding Mars’ past climate and learning more about its geology will also help researchers fill in longstanding gaps in our understanding about how the planet was formed and how it has changed over time. That could help us more fully grasp why Earth and its neighbor—which were originally made from the same deep space materials—turned out to be such contrasting compatriots. That’s just the first step in an ambitious mission to bring humans back to the Moon and then eventually to Mars.

The mission’s carefully chosen landing site is the Jezero Crater, where an ancient river delta full of mineral-rich sediments joined a huge lake: the kind of place scientists think might have supported life. Mars orbiters have already spent years collecting information and images from 200 miles above Jezero. Pinpointing signs of ancient life will require a closer look, and that’s where Perseverance comes in.

The robotic scientist, which weighs about 2,300 pounds and is the size of a small car, will spend at least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days) using a specially designed drill to collect intact rock cores—rather than pulverizing the rock the way its predecessor Curiosity did—and store these samples on the surface until future missions can return them to Earth. All this study requires a new set of instruments, which, like any prepared student, Perseverance is toting on its back. One instrument can detect organic matter; another measures the composition of rocks and soil. Together, they’ll help us learn the composition of Mars with greater precision than ever before.

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