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What Will NASA’s “Perseverance” Attempt On Mars?

Newspaper: Avenue Mail

Date: 20th March, 2021 

Mars as a planet has arisen curiosity of earthlings for centuries. The planet was discovered by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei through his first telescopic observation of Mars in 1610. In the pecking order of the solar system, Earth is preceded by Venus and succeeded by Mars. Though Venus is second after Mercury in proximity to the Sun, it boasts of the hottest surface in the planetary system. Venus was deemed unfit for prolonged landing expeditions as it is hot surface and gaseous atmosphere make it extremely difficult. The National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) turned its focus turned to Mars which spiked interest in its composition, climate, geology, and over time. The erstwhile Soviet Union, USA, Europe, and India have despatched spacecraft and rovers to understand Mars better.

 

In India, Jawaharlal Nehru had envisioned the need for India to be at the forefront in space exploration and he constituted the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under the guidance of scientist Vikram Sarabhai in 1962 to formulate the Indian space program. This organization eventually transformed into the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1969 under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Forty-four years later in November 2013, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched India’s own Mars mission “Mangalyaan” which successfully landed on Mars in September 2014. ISRO was lauded all over the world for the triumphant Mars mission. As of 2021, eleven Mars missions are actively studying the various facets of our neighbor. In the 400 years since its discovery, we have come a long way in understanding Mars, but the knowledge collected so far is only the tip of the iceberg. 

 

In November 2011, NASA launched its car-sized rover named “Curiosity” headed for Mars which landed on the surface in August 2012. The rover aimed to investigate the climate and geology of Mars. Owning to the success of the Curiosity rover, NASA decided to launch another Mars rover and its successor “Perseverance”. Though the design of Perseverance is like Curiosity, it is heavier, faster, and far better equipped than any other rover on Mars.

 

Perseverance landed onto the Jezero crater on Mars in a nail-biting seven minutes of terror on February 18th, 2021. The craterwas chosen very carefully as it is estimated to be holding some clues of past bacterial life. The NASA mission control heaved a sigh of relief on its ambitious plan of exploring mars for the next decade when Perseverance landed as per plan. The rover had completed a 292.5 million-mile journey from the earth before breaking into the atmosphere of Mars and landing successfully. India-born NASA scientist Swati Mohan was the first to announce “Touchdown is confirmed” in the crowded and nervous control room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The scientists erupted into claps and celebration on the achievement of another historic space mission.

 

The previous missions of Mars have focused around on finding the signs of water on the red planet, but Perseverance will be looking for signs of life in microorganisms that must have inhabited Mars billions of years ago. Today Mars is bone dry with no signs of water or life, but it is believed that in the prehistoric era, lakes and oceans existed on the planet, supporting life like on earth today. As per NASA’s website, the mission of Perseverance is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for a possible return to Earth. The Mars 2020/Perseverance rover is designed to better understand the geology of Mars and seek signs of ancient life. The mission will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth in the future”.

 

Of the pictures beamed by previous missions over the decades, the craters, mounts, and valleys on Mars provide proof of water which leads to a conclusion of the existence of life in ancient water bodies. The Jezero Crater on which the rover landed, is believed to be a lake of around three and a half billion years ago. Perseverance is also tasked with bringing rocks from Mars back onto Earth through a drill armed in the rover but that can only be completed over a series of missions. Perseverance is also equipped with a drone for the first time named “Ingenuity” which will fly across the planet for exploration. The rover will also attempt to extract oxygen from the atmosphere to help future landing missions.

 

NASA’s Perseverance is an ambitious project for us on earth to unravel the secrets of Mars and help future explorations of Mars and the solar system. The many mysteries of space are still unknown to mankind.

 

In the next few years, human beings could be landing Jupiter or Saturn or on Mars-like they do on the moon, till then we must keep happy with the brilliant pictures Perseverance is broadcasting of Mars to Earth.