In March 2020, at an meeting held on the Lake Braddock Secondary Faculty in Burke, Virginia, Alex Mather’s classmates obtained huge information from NASA.
Mather had submitted a potential title for the Administration’s latest Mars rover, and this submission—amongst 28,000 obtained by NASA from younger area lovers—was “Perseverance.” The evening earlier than his college meeting, he discovered his submission had been chosen.
It’s a NASA custom to have youngsters select the names of Mars rovers, Washington Submit’s KidsPost reported in March. Children have give you the previous 4: Curiosity, which landed on the crimson planet in 2012; Spirit, which landed in 2004; Alternative, which landed three weeks after Spirit; and Sojourner, which landed on the Fourth of July in 1997.
Now, at roughly 3:55 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Feb. 18, Perseverance will try probably the most difficult—and exact—Mars touchdown in NASA historical past. If all goes easily, the rover will examine Mars’ habitability in an try to find out if life ever took root on Mars. Perseverance, nicknamed “Percy” (many a scientist and science journalist has talked about having trouble spelling “Perseverance”) may also search for indicators of previous life and conduct experiments that examine the potential of human exploration.
“Perseverance is NASA’s most bold Mars rover mission but,” Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, mentioned in a Feb. 16 press launch. “…the touchdown group may have its palms full getting us to Jezero Crater – probably the most difficult Martian terrain ever focused for a touchdown.”
Jezero Crater is a 28-mile-wide hole situated on the western margin of the Isidis Planitia area in Mars’ northern hemisphere. About three billion years in the past, Jezero hosted a virtually 820-foot-deep lake, fed by a close-by historic river delta wealthy in mineral sediments. It’s the type of place scientists assume may need supported life. “I believe that must be the hands-down most enjoyable factor that this website has to supply,” Tim Goudge, a planetary scientist and postdoctoral fellow at College of Texas at Austin, advised NOVA in 2018.
Mars orbiters have already spent years accumulating data and pictures from 200 miles above Jezero. Pinpointing indicators of historic life would require a better look, nevertheless. That’s the place Perseverance, outfitted with devices that may detect natural matter and measure the composition of rocks and soil, is available in.
However there’s a hitch: The rover and its companion, the first-ever area helicopter, named Ingenuity, had been constructed by people on Earth, and people are notoriously contaminated. “People are the dirtiest factor in that clear room” the place spacecraft meeting occurs, Moogega Cooper, astronomer and lead of planetary safety for the Mars 2020 Mission, advised NOVA producer Terri Randall. “We have now every kind of microorganisms in our physique and on our pores and skin. And so we’ve to make it possible for, from head to toe, and together with our eyes” the spacecraft is protected against human contamination, which may falsely signify life on Mars.
However Cooper had a higher concern, introduced on by the challenges of constructing a rover and conducting a NASA mission throughout a pandemic. “What was most worrying,” she says, “was that off the clock, you would possibly catch COVID. There’s now a vector to wipe out a complete group that might fully derail the mission and throw us off of our scheduled purpose.”
Luckily, Perseverance efficiently launched on Jul. 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, it has flown greater than 290 million miles, zooming via area at 49,290 mph relative to the solar.
Percy’s 17-minute-long entry, descent, and touchdown might be broadcast on NASA tv, starting with the separation of Perseverance and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from the spacecraft’s entry capsule. Subsequent, whereas touring at roughly 12,100 mph, the spacecraft will hit the highest of the Martian environment; friction from the environment will warmth the underside of the spacecraft to temperatures as excessive as 2,370 F. Moments later, it’ll deploy its parachute at “supersonic velocity,” NASA writes in its Feb. 16 press launch.
The Perseverance rover will use radar to detect how far it’s from the floor of the crimson planet and a secure touchdown website. As soon as the entry capsule absolutely separates from the rover and its “jetpack,” which is supplied with retrorockets (small auxiliary rockets fired within the course of journey to sluggish a craft down), Perseverance will contact down on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EDT.
First, it’ll pop up its head, take footage, and transmit them again to Earth. Engineers may also test on the rover’s well being throughout its first few days on its new residence planet, NASA writes in its press launch. Then, the tougher activity of figuring out indicators of life and testing expertise designed to provide oxygen from the Martian environment (in hopes that the fuel may very well be used for gasoline—or for people to breathe—on future missions) will start.
If life has existed on Mars earlier than, former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman tells NOVA, it could be an indication that extraterrestrial life is extra plentiful all through our universe than beforehand thought. However there’s additionally an opportunity that scientists don’t discover any signatures of life on the crimson planet. “And that’ll simply inform us that our one planet is so distinctive and miraculous,” geologist Tanja Bosak says.
“Perseverance is enjoying a really essential position in our understanding of our place within the universe,” Mars rover engineer Elio Morillo tells NOVA. “And I believe that is very noble.”
Tune in or stream “Searching for Life on Mars” on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 9/8c on PBS.