NASA’s Perseverance Rover is finally hitting the road on Mars

View of the Jezero Crater as seen from the Ingenuity helicopter.

View of the Jezero crater, as seen by the Ingenuity helicopter.
Statue: NASA JPL

With his helicopter babysitting duties are all wrapped up, perseverance can finally begin the serious work of searching the Martian landscape for signs of past life.

“We’re putting the commissioning phase of the rover and the landing site in our rearview mirror and hit the road,” Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. statement.

Indeed, perseverance is no longer necessary during tests of the wild successful Ingenuity helicopter, that is run flights now without the robber’s watchful eyes. Freed from that task, tThe rover can now embark on his first scientific expedition.

Over the next 14 weeks, Perseverance will explore a 1.5 square mile [4-square-kilometer] area within the Jezero crater, as it works to fulfilla whole range of scientific objectives. These goals include a better understanding of the geology of the region, assessing its past potential tor life, and of course, the ultimate prize: finding signs of ancient microbial life.

To that end, Perseverance will locate and collect promising rock and sediment samples, some of which will be tucked away in containers for a future Mars mission to retrieve and deliver them. to Earth for analysis. The rover will also conduct measurements and technical tests in anticipation of future human and robotic missions to the Red Planet.

The first step is for the SUV-sized vehicle to reach a scenic view, where it will behold ancient geological features in the crater. Percy’s car navigation capabilities and sampling systems will come fully online during this process.

From there, the rover will begin its exploration of two specific areas, both of which are believed to harbor deep and ancient layers of exposed rock. The first area is called the Crater Floor Fractured Rough, which, as the name implies, is filled with craters. The second area is called Séítah, which means “in the middle of the sand” in Navajo. Séítah has a “fair amount of Martian rock, but is also home to ridges, stratified rocks and sand dunes,” according to NASA.

Annotated map showing Percy's planned route.

Annotated map showing Percy’s planned route.
Statue: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The rover’s route has already been determined, and the map above shows where Perseverance will roam for the next 100 Sols of Mars days. Mission planners have their “route planned, complete with optional turns and labeled areas of interest and possible obstacles in our path”, Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s JPL and a co-leader of the project, explained in the statement.

The Séítah exploration unit is expected to be challenging, as it has a complex of sand dunes. To avoid problems, the rover will navigate the boundary between this area and the adjacent Crater Floor Fractured Rough. When an area of ​​interest is identified within Séítah, Percy will go to that spot, his scientific tasks, then return to a safe place. The team plans to identify at least four sites within these two areas that are believed to be most suitable for revealing the crater’s early environment and geological history. It is from these four places that the rover will take its samples.

“By starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Séítah geological units, we can start our exploration of Jezero from scratch,” Hand said. “This area was below 100 meters [328 feet] of water 3.8 billion years ago. We don’t know what stories the rocks and stratified outcrops will tell us, but we’re excited to get started.”

In a few months, once this phase of the mission is completed, the rover will return to the Octavia E. Butler landing site. At that point it is should have traveled somewhere between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 km), while eight of the 43 sample tubes should be filled with Martian dirt and rocks.

This first science campaign sounds great, but the next mission promises to be even better. Perseverance travels north and then west to the Jezero Delta, where an ancient river and lake once converged. The delta could be rich in carbonates, that is, minerals that can preserve fossilized signs of life. If microbial life ever existed on Mars — and that’s still a big if — this delta? would have been a perfect place for it life.

Perseverance may be embarking on its first official scientific expedition, but to be honest, the rover has been scientific from the moment on it landed in February. In addition to record sounds on Mars, it is already produced small amounts of oxygen from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars.

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