NASA launches Mars rover to search for indicators of historic life

Cape Canaveral (US), July 30

The greatest, most refined Mars rover ever constructed — a car-size car bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers — blasted off for the pink planet Thursday as a part of an formidable, long-range mission to deliver the primary Martian rock samples again to Earth to be analysed for proof of historic life.

NASA’s Perseverance rode a mighty Atlas V rocket into a transparent morning sky on this planet’s third and last Mars launch of the summer time. China and the United Arab Emirates received a head begin final week, however all three missions ought to attain their vacation spot in February after a journey of seven months and 480 million km.

The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled rover will drill down and gather tiny geological specimens that will likely be introduced residence in about 2031 in a type of interplanetary relay race involving a number of spacecraft and international locations. The general price: greater than USD eight billion.

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, pronounced the launch the beginning of “humanity’s first round trip to another planet.”

“Oh, I loved it, punching a hole in the sky, right? Getting off the cosmic shore of our Earth, wading out there in the cosmic ocean,” he stated. “Every time, it gets me.”

In addition to addressing the life-on-Mars query, the mission will yield classes that might pave the way in which for the arrival of astronauts as early because the 2030s.

“There’s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated simply earlier than liftoff. “It is always hard. It’s never been easy. In this case, it’s harder than ever before because we’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic.” 

The US, the one nation to soundly put a spacecraft on Mars, is in search of its ninth profitable touchdown on the planet, which has proved to be the Bermuda Triangle of house exploration, with greater than half of the world’s missions there burning up, crashing or in any other case ending in failure.

China is sending each a rover an orbiter.

The UAE, a newcomer to outer house, has an orbiter en route.

It’s the largest stampede to Mars in spacefaring historical past. The alternative to fly between Earth and Mars comes round solely as soon as each 26 months when the planets are on the identical aspect of the solar and about as shut as they’ll get.

Launch controllers wore masks and sat spaced aside on the Cape Canaveral management middle due to the coronavirus outbreak, which saved lots of of scientists and different group members away from Perseverance’s liftoff.

“That was overwhelming. Overall, just ‘Wow!’” stated Alex Mather, the 13-year-old Virginia schoolboy who proposed the identify Perseverance in a NASA competitors and watched the launch in individual together with his mother and father.

The launch went off on time at 7:50 a.m. regardless of a 4.2-magnitude earthquake 20 minutes earlier than liftoff that shook Southern California, the location of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the rover mission.

If all goes effectively, the rover will descend to the Martian floor on February 18, 2021, in what NASA calls seven minutes of terror, through which the craft goes from 19,300 kmph to a whole cease, with no human intervention by any means. It is carrying 25 cameras and a pair of microphones that may allow Earthlings to vicariously tag alongside.

Perseverance will purpose for treacherous unexplored territory: Jezero Crater, riddled with boulders, cliffs, dunes and presumably rocks bearing indicators of microbes from what was as soon as a lake greater than three billion years in the past. The rover will retailer half-ounce (15-gram) rock samples in dozens of super-sterilized titanium tubes.

It additionally will launch a mini helicopter that may try the primary powered flight on one other planet, and take a look at out different know-how to arrange the way in which for future astronauts. That consists of gear for extracting oxygen from Mars’ skinny carbon-dioxide environment.

The plan is for NASA and the European Space Agency to launch a dune buggy in 2026 to fetch the rock samples, together with a rocket ship that may put the specimens into orbit round Mars. Then one other spacecraft will seize the orbiting samples and produce them residence.

Samples taken straight from Mars, not drawn from meteorites found on Earth, have lengthy been thought-about “the Holy Grail of Mars science,” in keeping with NASA’s unique and now-retired Mars czar, Scott Hubbard.

To definitively reply the profound query of whether or not life exists — or ever existed — past Earth, the samples should be analyzed by the very best electron microscopes and different devices, far too large to suit on a spacecraft, he stated.

“I’ve wanted to know if there was life elsewhere in the universe since I was 9 years old. That was more than 60 years ago,” the 71-year-old Hubbard stated from his Northern California cabin.

“But just maybe, I’ll live to see the fingerprints of life come back from Mars in one of those rock samples.” Said Bridenstine: “There is nothing better than bringing samples back to Earth where we can put them in a lab and we can apply every element of technology against those samples to make determinations as to whether or not there was, at one time, life on the surface of Mars.”

Two different NASA landers are additionally working on Mars: 2018’s InSight and 2012’s Curiosity rover. Six different spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three from the US, two from Europe and one from India. AP

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