We may finally get answers to one of life’s biggest questions: Is there other life in the Universe?
NASA’s aptly named Perseverance rover aims to do just that as it is the space agency’s fifth rover to successfully touch down on the Martian surface. Perseverance had a smooth landing on Thursday afternoon.
Now that the rover has landed, and if all goes according to plan, it could be the most successful mission involving the search for extraterrestrial life in the space agency’s 62-year history.
According to insiders, it was one of the most challenging robotic maneuvers NASA has ever attempted.
Similar to its rover sibling, Curiosity—who landed on the Martian surface in 2012–the Perseverance rover’s descent onto the surface of Mars is described as “seven minutes of terror.” Why? Because the rover will have to be fully autonomous as it begins its daring descent onto the Red Planet.
The reason? Communication. It takes between 3 and 22 minutes for communication from earth to reach Mars. By that time, it might be too late to tell Perseverance to avoid a bolder or crater. So the rover must survive the landing all on its own.
According to NASA, only about half of all previous attempts to land a spacecraft on Mars have succeeded. The cherry on top: Perseverance’s planned touchdown is a high degree of difficulty and risk.
Not only will the rover be traveling at 12,000 miles per hour once it enters Mars’ atmosphere, but it will also be subjected to temperatures of more than 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit—hotter than the inside of a volcano.
In a statement released by Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for the Perseverance mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she expressed confidence in the preparation the team made for the mission: “No Mars landing is guaranteed, but we have been preparing a decade to put this rover’s wheels down on the surface of Mars and get to work.”
Robert Zubrin, the author of “The Case for Mars” and founder of The Mars Society, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance human missions to Mars, believes that if successful, the Perseverance mission could set off a new space-race in the exploration of the red planet.
“Perseverance could conceivably find fossilized microbial life,” said Zubrin. “If we could drill, find these microfossils, bring them up and subject them to all kinds of examination, we would find out the truth about life in the Universe. That is powerful stuff.”
Among its powerful sample-collecting instruments, the rover is carrying a helicopter, known as Ingenuity. Mission controllers will use it to attempt the first controlled flight on another planet. The 4-pound drone will fly and scout nearby areas.
The rover landed in Jezero Crater. Scientists think it was once home to an ancient river delta. It is a 28-mile-wide basin located north of the Martian equator. NASA chose Jezero Crater because it might be the best place to find fossilized evidence that life once existed among the region’s sediments and mineral deposits.
As Dr. Ian Malcom said in Jurassic Park: “Life…finds a way.” We just have to find out where that life went.
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Source: NBC NEWS