Mars rover Perseverance lands safely on red planet
Vehicle’s mission is to collect samples in effort to detect traces of past life on planet
Nasa’s Mars Perseverance rover has landed on the red planet to begin its search for traces of life.
The mission is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars.
It has reached the research destination – the Jezero crater – a 45km wide depression containing sediments of an ancient river delta.
Researchers suggest that evidence of past life could be preserved here.
Perseverance will gather rock and soil samples using its drill, and will store the sample cores in tubes on the Martian surface ready for a return mission to bring around 30 samples to Earth in the early 2030s.
The rover’s instruments will analyse scientifically interesting samples at the Martian surface.
Selected samples will be collected by drilling down to several centimetres and then sealed in sample tubes and stored on the rover.
When the rover reaches a suitable location, a cache of tubes will be dropped on the surface of Mars to be collected by the Sample Fetch Rover, being developed by Airbus, which will take them to the Nasa Mars Ascent vehicle.
Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which will fly short distances from the rover in the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet.
A successful test of the helicopter could lead to more flying probes to survey the landscape on other planets.
It will also trial technologies to help astronauts make future expeditions to Mars.
These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources such as subsurface water, and improving landing techniques.
They also involve characterising weather and other environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.
Professor Mark Sephton, from Imperial College London, said: “This could be the mission that answers the question of whether life ever existed on Mars. Evidence of biology on another planet would mean that life on Earth was not alone.
“We need to choose the best samples... and return around half a kilogramme of material from Mars.
“The molecular fingerprints of Mars life need not only to have been generated, but also preserved over billions of years.”
Perseverance was one of three space missions sent towards Mars during a July 2020 launch window.
This period occurs approximately every two years and two months and is the most economical time in which a rocket can be launched to reach its intended target.
Last week saw the UAE’s Hope probe and China’s Tianwen-1 – or the Quest For Heavenly Truth – enter Mars’s orbit.