NASA's Perseverance rover bound for Mars to seek ancient life
This NASA photo shows a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, on July 30, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet.
AFP/Joel Kowsky/NASA
NASA's Perseverance rover bound for Mars to seek ancient life
Gianrigo Marletta (Agence France-Presse) - July 31, 2020 - 8:30am

CAPE CANAVERAL, United States — NASA's latest Mars rover Perseverance launched Thursday on an astrobiology mission to look for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet -- and to fly a helicopter-drone on another world for the first time.

Previous trips to Mars have discovered it was far warmer and wetter three billion years ago than it is today, creating the conditions necessary for carbon-based life.

Perseverance's goal is to go a step further, and discover whether "habitable" translated to "habited."

"There would be no bigger discovery in the history of humanity than finding life that is not on our own world," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. 

"If we were to make a discovery that it in fact was, everything from that point forward is going to be 'Okay, what other life is out there? How do we get to it? How do we study it?'"

An Atlas V rocket carrying Perseverance's spaceship took off on schedule at 7:50 am (1150 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and its stages separated according to plan.

But as the spacecraft passed through the Earth's shadow, the temperature of a heating system dropped, triggering a "safe mode" that switched off all but essential systems.

NASA said it hadn't encountered this problem before because previous spaceships followed a different flight path, but added the issue was not serious and the vessel would soon be back in normal mode.

"The philosophy is that it is far better to trigger a safe mode event when not required, than miss one that is," the agency said.

If all goes to plan, Perseverance will reach Mars on February 18, 2021, becoming the fifth rover to complete the voyage since 1997.

So far, all have been American. China launched its first Mars rover last week, which should arrive by May 2021.

By next year, the planet could have three active rovers, including NASA's Curiosity, which landed in 2012.

Faster and smarter

Perseverance is an improved version of Curiosity -- faster, smarter, and capable of autonomously navigating 200 meters (650 feet) per day.

About the size of a small SUV, it weighs a metric ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones -- which scientists hope will be the first to record sound on Mars. 

It has a two-meter-long robotic arm, and is powered by a small nuclear battery.

Once on the surface, NASA will deploy the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter -- a small 1.8 kilogram (four pound) aircraft that will attempt to fly in an atmosphere that is only one percent the density of Earth's.

The idea is to lay down a proof of concept that could one day revolutionize planetary exploration, since rovers can only cover a few dozen kilometers in their whole lifespans and are vulnerable to sand dunes and other obstacles.

A little MOXIE

Another goal is to help pave the way for future human missions -- and a major obstacle is the planet's atmosphere of 96 percent carbon dioxide.

Liquid oxygen can be brought from Earth, or oxygen can be mined from ice underneath the Martian surface. 

A simpler approach is converting it from the atmosphere, which is what the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE can do, using a process called electrolysis.

The plan is to perform at least 10 oxygen-producing runs using the car battery-sized device under as many different seasonal and environmental conditions as possible.

But Perseverance's primary mission is to scour the planet for evidence of ancient life forms. 

The rover's drill will collect around 30 intact rock cores and place them in test tubes, to be collected by a future joint US-European mission.

Indisputable proof of past life on Mars will most likely not be confirmed, if it exists, until these samples are analyzed, which is unlikely to happen before the 2030s.

Ancient delta

NASA has chosen the Jezero crater as its landing site, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator.

Between three and four billion years ago, a river flowed there into a large body of water.

"At Jezero we have river valleys that flow into and out of the crater and we know that the lake filled up with water and that overflowed," geologist Katie Stack Morgan of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said Thursday. 

"We think that Jezero has all the building blocks to support past life."

The mission is set to last at least two years, but probably much longer given the endurance previous rovers have shown.

MARS NASA PERSEVERANCE
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 3, 2020 - 7:28am

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

August 3, 2020 - 7:28am

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon on time after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and deploying its parachutes without any glitches.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts on board, said: "It's truly our honor and privilege" as radio communications became choppy and cut out.

It was the first water landing for a US spacecraft since the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. — AFP

July 31, 2020 - 8:35am

NASA's latest rover Perseverance launched for Mars on Thursday, blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on schedule.

The first stage of rocket separation took place a few minutes later for the second stage Centaur rocket to take over, boosting it into orbit.

Perseverance is now preparing for a second burn that will put it on a trajectory toward Mars, a trip that will take around seven months and cover 300 million miles (480 million kilometers). — AFP

July 20, 2020 - 7:30am

The first Arab space mission to Mars blasts off Monday aboard a rocket from Japan, after weather delays set back the launch of the probe dubbed "Hope."

A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the unmanned probe, known as "Al-Amal" in Arabic, lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan.

"We have launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 42 (H-IIA F42) carrying aboard the Emirates Mars Mission's (EMM) HOPE spacecraft... at 6:58:14 (JST) (2158GMT)," rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement shortly after the launch. — AFP

June 1, 2020 - 8:13am

NASA astronauts enter the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

The hatch opened at 1:02 pm Eastern Time (1702 GMT) as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the threshold about twenty minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000. — AFP

May 28, 2020 - 7:49am

SpaceX's landmark launch to the International Space Station was postponed Wednesday due to poor weather with around 20 minutes to go until takeoff.

"Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today," SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor told NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

The next launch window is on Saturday. — AFP

 

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