People have been speculating about the possibility of life on Mars for centuries. But it’s only since the 1970s and the Viking 1 and 2missions that we have been able to search for it. After many decades, evidence has mounted that Mars may have once supported life (like the existence of flowing water and organic molecules), but evidence of present-day life has remained elusive.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by an international team of scientists led by the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CSIC-INTA), it’s possible that the surface of Mars was bathed in acid and alkaline fluids that destroyed all evidence of past life. These findings could have serious implications for upcoming missions to Mars, which includes NASA’s Perseveranceand the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover.
In a minor hiccup, the Mars 2020 spacecraft entered safe mode a few hours after launch, apparently due to a temperature anomaly. This was the conclusion reached by mission controllers after receiving telemetry data on the spacecraft via the NASA Deep Space Network. Luckily, the spacecraft is working nominally and is on its way toward Mars to join in the search for evidence of past (and present) life!
This summer – between July 30th and August 15th – NASA’s Perseverancerover will begin its long journey for Mars. Once it arrives (by February of 2021), it will join its sister mission, the Curiosity rover, and a slew of other robotic landers and orbiters that are busy characterizing the atmosphere and surface of the Red Planet. Ultimately, the goal of Perseverance is to determine if Mars once supported life (and maybe still does!)
Just last week (July 7th), the Perseverance rover and all the other elements of the Mars 2020 spacecraft were loaded aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas Vrocket that will send it on its way. This included the aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage, which will be responsible for transporting the Perseverance rover during its six-month journey to Mars and depositing it on the surface.
When NASA’s new Perseverance Martian rover launches in a little over a month it will have a small robotic stow-away on board. Ingenuity is a small helicopter, with a fuselage about the size of a softball and two extending rotors that measure about 4 feet across. It was attached to the bottom of the rover’s chassis in April, and NASA recently released details about it’s technically challenging release process.
Before the team of NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers started designing the release mechanism though, they had to decide what Ingenuity’s mission would actually be. Ultimately, the helicopter will serve as the first powered experimental test flight on any extraterrestrial body. NASA is hoping it will be the first of many, leading to future helicopters on Mars that could allow mission scientists to peer into previously inaccessible places, such as craters and cliffs, from the air. If Ingenuity is successful, it could pave the way to many future air based scientific and scouting missions.
A future rover on Mars may include shape-shifting capabilities. This innovative tech won’t quite be like the liquid-metal polymorphing robot from “Terminator 2,” but will solve a problem that have plagued previous rovers: wheel wear and tear.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center is now using shape memory alloys (SMA) to build better wheels for driving on Mars.
70 days from now, the next launch window to Mars opens. That’s when NASA will launch their Perseverance Rover. New images from NASA show the advanced rover being put into the fairing, readying it for its long journey.
This summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. When it arrives on Mars (on February 18th, 2021), it will join the Curiosity rover and a host of other missions that are looking for evidence of past and present life on the Red Planet. At present, engineers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are conducting the final assembly of the rover in preparation for launch.
With less than 14 weeks to go before the mission’s launch period opens up, several important development milestones have been completed. This includes integrating the rover’s remaining components, like the rover’s six wheels and the small helicopter drone that will help explore the surface. These elements, and a slew of other final preparations, were integrated with the rover over the past few weeks.
In the near future, sample-return missions from Mars will finally be a reality. For decades, scientists have analyzed the composition of Martian rocks and soil by either sending rovers to the surface or by examining meteorites that came from Mars. But with missions like Perseverance, which are equipped with a sample cache instrument, it won’t be long before Martian rocks are brought back to Earth for study.
Similar to how the Apollo astronauts brought back Moon rocks, which revealed the existence of water on the Moon and its similarity to Earth, Martian rocks could reveal a great deal about the formation and evolution of the Red Planet. The question is, what rocks should be returned? This is the question that the international Mars Sample Return campaign is considering on the eve of Perseverance’s launch.
Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity…For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?
NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!