In an ongoing race to be the first to successfully set foot on Mars, NASA has launched its latest mission to the Red Planet, called Mars 2020. The mission’s goal is to search for signs of past microbial life, collect and store rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth in the future, study the climate and geology of the planet, and test new technologies that could help future human missions.
Mars 2020, which launched on July 30, 2020, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, consists of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. The rover is about the size of a small car, and features a robotic arm with a drill to collect rock and soil samples to be stored in small, sealed tubes. These samples may later be retrieved by a future mission and returned to Earth for analysis.
The helicopter, on the other hand, is a technology demonstration that could pave the way for future aerial exploration of Mars. Its main mission is to test the viability of powered flight in the thin atmosphere of Mars, which will be crucial for future aerial exploration and mapping of the planet. The helicopter can fly up to 50 meters above the surface and stay aloft for up to 90 seconds.
One of the most exciting aspects of Mars 2020 is the search for signs of past microbial life. The rover will explore a region of Mars called Jezero Crater, which is believed to have once been home to a lake that existed billions of years ago. Scientists are hopeful that the rover will uncover evidence of ancient bacterial life in the rocks and soil of the crater.
In addition to its primary mission objectives, Mars 2020 will also test new technologies that could be critical for future human missions to Mars. For example, the rover will be equipped with an experimental system for producing oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. This will be a vital capability for human explorers who will need to produce their own oxygen in order to survive on the planet.
Overall, Mars 2020 represents a major milestone in NASA’s quest to explore Mars and prepare for future human missions. With its advanced scientific instruments, cutting-edge technologies, and unprecedented level of detail, the mission promises to shed new light on the Red Planet and bring us one step closer to answering the age-old question of whether life exists beyond Earth.