NASA to send Perseverance, a new trundle bot, and Ingenuity, the first interplanetary helicopter, to sniff out life on Mars in July

Mars2020 mission will scout for interesting rocks to bring back to Earth

NASA is gearing up to launch its Perseverance rover and Ingenuity drone helicopter to hunt for signs of microbial life on Mars next month.

The Mars 2020 mission is the first step towards the space agency’s goal of obtaining samples of rock and soil and preparing them for return back to Earth. "Fifty-one years ago today, NASA was deep into final preparations for the first Moon landing," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Wednesday.

"Today we stand at the threshold of another monumental moment in exploration: sample collection at Mars. As we celebrate the heroes of Apollo 11 today, future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance - not only for what they will achieve 100 million miles from home, but for what they were able to accomplish on this world on the road to launch."

The goal is to send Perseverance to Jezero, one of the largest and oldest craters on the Red Planet, which scientists believe was once filled with water. The rocks there are about three-and-a-half to four billion years old, Katie Stack Morgan, a deputy scientist working on the mission from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, estimated during a live NASA broadcast.

"Jezero is the best preserved delta, where rivers deposited rocks and sand," she said. There may also be carbonate minerals along the inner rim of the crater left over as the water evaporated.

The SUV-sized rover will drill into the surface and place the samples into tubes. These tubes will be grouped together and scattered across Mars for another rover to collect and bring back into a spacecraft that will eventually fly back to Earth to return the samples. The whole effort may take up to 10 years and requires multiple vehicles and the help of the European Space Agency.

Lori Glaze, the director of NASA's Planetary Division, said Mars 2020 is an astrobiology mission and is "the search to see if life exists anywhere beyond Earth." NASA is looking for signs of ancient microbes in the layers of Martian rocks.

Stack Morgan pointed out that scientists studying early life on Earth look at similar structures like stromatolites, where the textures and chemical composition, show that they could only have been created by microorganisms.

Perseverance will also deploy a small robotic drone named Ingenuity to scout out areas that look interesting for the rover to drive to. It'll be the first helicopter to fly on any planet other than Earth.

Youtube Video

The one ton rover, however, is the main instrument in the mission. It comes equipped with various cameras and instruments, including one that can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen to see if it’s possible to use as a potential fuel reserve for Martian astronauts one day.

Perseverance is also the cleanest system to be launched to the Red Planet. Scientists are going to be looking for trace chemicals from billions of years ago, and must be careful not to contaminate the vehicle with any material from Earth.

The launch date is 20 July. NASA is taking advantage of a time window that ends on 11 August, where both Mars and Earth’s orbits are aligned. This is something that happens every 26 months. Bridenstine said that it was important that NASA completes the launch by this time, as waiting another two years or so would jeopardize the mission.

If all goes to plan, Perseverance will land in the Jezero crater on 18 February 2021. It'll come into the Martian atmosphere protected by a heat shield and then deploy the world's largest supersonic-rated parachute.

Once it gets closer to the surface, the parachute and then the heat shield are ejected and the delivery sled is deployed. A rocket platform with eight hydrazine thrusters will hover over the surface and lower the rover gently to the surface on cables, then detach and crash at a safe distance. It sounds bizarre but it worked well last time.

"The mission has one launch, 314 million miles of interplanetary space and seven minutes of terror to get safely onto the surface of Mars," said Glaze. "When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time and we truly begin to realize the scientific bounty before us, the fun really begins." ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • IPSE: More than a third of freelancers have quit contracting since IR35 reforms

    Exodus, movement of the people... to the Middle East or elsewhere

    More than a third (35 per cent) of contractors in the UK have become permanent employees, retired, shifted to work overseas or are "simply not working" since IR35 tax legislation was revised earlier this year.

    This is according to the Association of Independent Professionals (IPSE) which found 35 per cent fewer freelancers among those it surveyed since 6 April when the government pushed through the delayed reform.

    "This research shows the devastating impact the changes to IR35 have had on contractors, needlessly compounding the financial damage of the pandemic," said Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE. "Now, just when contractors are needed the most - amid mounting labour shortages across the UK and particularly in haulage - government decisions have drive out a third of the sector."

    Continue reading
  • New Relic guzzles down CodeStream to help devs jump straight from app error telemetry to offending code

    'I can debug production from the IDE,' said CS boss Peter Pezaris

    Observability company New Relic has acquired CodeStream, specialists in developer collaboration, with the aim being to connect observability data with code in the development environment.

    CodeStream, founded in 2017 by Peter Pezaris, adds instant developer communication to coding environments. For example, a developer puzzling over some code written by a colleague can click next to that code, type a message to the other dev, and they will receive it either in the IDE if they happen to be working on the same project, or in a messaging tool such as Slack, complete with a reference to the code in question. They reply, and a discussion begins.

    Although it may seem a small thing, given that they could just use Slack (or any number of other messaging services) directly, the context and convenience makes it a worthwhile collaboration tool. CodeStream also integrates with pull requests from GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, and issue management from Jira, Trello and others.

    Continue reading
  • Analogue tones of a ZX Spectrum Load set to ride again via podcast project

    Remember the R Tape Loading Error?

    The glory days of audio-cassette loading are set to return in the coming weeks, with retro fans to be treated to a broadcast for them to hit Play and Record to.

    Audio cassettes were the medium of choice for software back when Sinclair and Commodore's 8-bit hardware ruled the roost. The floppy disk seemed impossibly glamorous for the average home computer user and code was instead delivered via audio.

    While the sound of those files was unintelligible for most, for some enthusiasts it was possible to discern the type of data being loaded. Right up until the all-too-common R Tape Loading Error (which usually seemed to come right at the end of a lengthy period staring at a loading screen).

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021