The robotic geologist Mars2020-Perseverance is already on Mars. The NASA rover has managed to land this Thursday in the Jezero crater, where it will look for signs of past microbial life. With its six wheels, about three meters long and 1,025 kilograms in weight, it is the largest and most sophisticated robotic vehicle to reach the red planet. It is also the most expensive since the total cost of the mission amounts to 2,700 million dollars (just over 2,200 million euros ). As planned, at 9:55 p.m. the applause of the team gathered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in California, announced that they had received confirmation of the successful landing of this robotic vehicle that since the launch of last July 30, it has traveled 472 million kilometers.
What an incredible team. It has overcome all the adversities that a landing on Mars entails, in addition to the challenges posed by Covid-19, said Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA director, moments after landing on Jezero, a 45-kilometer-wide crater that scientists believe was filled with water 3.5 billion years ago. This mission embodies the human ideal of perseverance and will help us prepare for the exploration of Mars that we humans do in the 1930s, added Jurczyk. As explained by Jessica Samuels one of the scientific managers of the mission, in the next few hours they will verify that all the systems and instruments are working well to begin operations.
AN OXYGEN FACTORY
One of the main instruments of the rover has been manufactured by Spanish researchers from the Center for Astrobiology (CAB / CSIC-INTA). This is the MEDA meteorological station, which in addition to measuring parameters such as temperature or pressure, will study the annoying Martian dust, something essential for these future manned missions.
Likewise, a team from the University of Valladolid has participated in SuperCam, an instrument that uses a pulsed laser to study the chemistry of rocks and sediments, and has its own microphone to help scientists better understand the properties of rocks. , including its hardness. It also carries Mastcam-Z cameras on its mast, which allow you to zoom in and take high-resolution photos and panoramic photos in color and in three dimensions.
One of the star instruments is MOXIE, which for the first time will test how to obtain oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is very thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide. This way of producing oxygen is what could be used to supply human beings traveling to Mars in the coming years. To help those future manned spacecraft and others larger than Mars2020 to dock more safely, a suite of sensors (MEDLI2) and the rover’s navigation system collected data during the entry into the atmosphere and the seven-minute descent.
On the other hand, the PIXL (with X-rays), SHERLOC (which carries a spectrometer and an ultraviolet laser), and WATSON instruments will allow the robot to examine rocky surfaces and identify the presence of certain minerals and organic molecules in situ. Perseverance also carries a radar, RIMFAX, capable of visualizing deep layers of the surface, a technology that is going to be used to find out how the different layers have fared over time. This data will later be used to identify ice deposits below the surface.
COLLECTION OF SAMPLES
Perseverance’s main task, however, will be to look for traces of past microbial life on this planet that in the past was similar to our own. It will work together with another NASA rover, Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012, and another static robot called Insight, which investigates the interior of the planet. This fleet of robots will be joined by a Chinese rover in May if the Asian giant also manages the complex task of landing.
— NASA (@NASA) February 18, 2021
In addition to doing its own on-site analyzes, the Perseverance rover will store the most relevant samples it finds because the plan is that a future mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) that is under study – Mars Sample Return – will go to collect them in a few years and bring them back to Earth so they can be analyzed.
Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever created, but to verify that microscopic life existed we will need a great deal of testing. Although we will learn a lot from the excellent instruments that the rover carries, it is quite possible that laboratories and instruments like the ones we will be required to do will be required. we have on Earth to tell us if the samples contain evidence that Mars harbored life, “said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Division of Planetary Sciences.
Along with the Perseverance robotic vehicle, NASA’s Mars2020 mission comprises a small helicopter called Ingenuity, which weighs 1.8 kilograms. If the tests of the first helicopter to make a controlled flight on Mars go well, it will be used in future missions to explore caves mountains, and other hard-to-reach places.