For decades, scientists have searched for signs of alien life, and with the launch of NASA’s newest Mars rover, astrobiologists are closer than ever to answering key questions about life on Mars.
A NASA Illustration of the Perseverance Mars Rover.
The spacecraft Perseverance, named by a seventh-grader for the grit that goes into exploring alien environments, roared into space this morning atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It’s projected to touch down in the Jezero Crater in February 2021 to hunt for signs of life.
NASA wrote that Perseverance “takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.”
To answer some of our biggest questions about alien life, the newest Mars rover is equipped with the biggest and smartest technologies NASA has ever sent to Mars. Much to the excitement of our rotorcraft enthusiasts, this includes a miniature helicopter called Ingenuity that is set to have its own flight on the red planet.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicoptor, illustrated next to Perserverance on Mars.
Perseverance is a six-wheeled, car-sized copy of the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. It’s built with the same reliable structure as its predecessor with some serious technological upgrades.
The most important difference is that this rover is can sample and cache minerals that could hold evidence of ancient Martian life. The rover will collect rock cores using a larger “hand”, or turret, equipped with a coring drill, two science instruments and a camera at the end of its 7-foot robotic arm. Super-sanitized sample return tubes will store samples for a future mission to potentially return to Earth and be studied by scientists for signs of life on Mars. Fun fact, these tubes are the cleanest items ever to be bound for space.
The rover also houses an internal workspace dedicated to picking up, moving and placing drill bits and sample tubes within the Sampling and Caching System. New motors have been installed to drive these specialized movements. The system includes new and improved motors to drive its specialized movements.
The rover is also equipped with the latest landing gear. It has more self-driving capability, so it can cover more ground than Curiosity, and its wheels are narrower and more robust than Curiosity’s to account for wear and tear.
Perseverance is loaded with cameras - 23 to be exact, plus two more installed on Ingenuity. The cameras will give us the first glimpse of a parachute billowing open at Mars, and a color camera installed on the rover’s turret will allow for close-up surface inspection and “engineering health checkups”, according to NASA. Humans may also be able to hear the sounds of Mars for the first time through two microphones.
We can’t wait to see what new technology Perseverance inspires. We may get our first sound bite from another planet, we’ll learn more about ancient alien life, and better yet explore the possibilities of human life on Mars! For now, we’ll wait patiently to see its advanced landing gear in action next February.