You could say that all the past rovers that NASA sent to Mars have been leading up the Mars Perseverance rover mission. The rover may look similar to the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars, but there are differences. And it’s those differences that have scientists really excited that they might now be able to find signs of ancient life on the Red planet.
What others Mars Rovers have found
According to NASA each successive rover has made discoveries which have influenced in part the design of next-generation rovers.
“NASA’s first rover on Mars was modest: Sojourner, the size of a microwave oven, demonstrated in 1997 that a robot could rove on the Red Planet. NASA’s next Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were each the size of a golf cart. After landing in 2004, they discovered evidence that the planet once hosted running water before becoming a frozen desert. The car-sized Curiosity rover landed in 2012. Curiosity discovered that its landing site, Gale Crater, hosted a lake billions of years ago and an environment that could have supported microbial life. Perseverance aims to take the next step, seeking, as a primary goal, to answer one of the key questions of astrobiology: Are there potential signs of past microbial life, or biosignatures on Mars?”
“This demanding science goal requires a new suite of cutting-edge instruments to tackle the question from many angles. The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument, which can detect organic matter, and the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), which measures the composition of rocks and soil, will allow Perseverance to map organic matter, chemical composition and texture together at a higher level of detail than any Mars rover has done before. These instruments — two of the seven total onboard — will play a particularly important role in Perseverance’s search for potential signs of life.”
NASA says the Mars Perseverance rover looks almost identical to the Mars Curiosity rover but that there are a number of differences. The one clear difference? The “aft cross-beam, which looks a bit like a shopping cart handle.”
Other differences include:
- Sample Caching System (inside): Collects rock cores drilled by robotic arm
- Turret: Holds heavier science tools
- Cameras: 23 cameras, most in color
- Wheels: New dimensions & tread design
- AFT Cross-Beam: Stabilizes the rover during launch
Mars 2020 Deputy Project Scientist at NASA-JPL Katie Stack Morgan talks about searching for life in rocks
Landing in Jezero Crater’s ancient lakeshore
Jezero Crater on Mars is a 45 kilometre wide (28 miles) crater on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. The crater was a possible oasis in its distant past.
NASA says that “between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediments packed with carbonite minerals and clay. The Perseverance science team believes this ancient river delta could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life.”
A Mars helicopter? Yes!
Ingenuity is the name of the first aircraft to ever attempt controlled flight on another planet. Think about that for a second. It will attempt its first flight test in spring 2021.
The Mars Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch on July 30, 2020. You can watch the launch live on SpaceQ. It’s scheduled to arrive and land on Mars on February. 18, 2021.