Nasa launches Thursday March toward its mobile robot Perseverance, designed to discover the traces of ancient microbes that were covered may be on the planet three billion years ago. The rover carries also a mini-helicopter, which will attempt the first flight of a device on another planet.
The launch by an Atlas V rocket of United Launch Alliance, is scheduled at 7: 50 a.m. from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
If it arrives intact, on February 18, 2021, Perseverance will be only the fifth rover to make the trip since 1997. All of them are Americans.
China launched its first rover on mars last week, which is expected to land in may 2021. March could, therefore, have three rovers in activity next year, with the American Rover, which traveled 23 miles on the red planet since 2012.
“This is no doubt, it is a challenge,” said Wednesday, Jim Bridenstine, the head of Nasa about this mission. “There is no other way to say it, this is not easy. And it is very risky from the point of view of the chances of success. That said, we know how to land on Mars, we’ve already done it eight times “.
Helicopter on board
The new rover, built at the legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Nasa in Pasadena, California, is an improved version of the Rover: its six wheels are more robust, it is faster, more intelligent and can self-drive on for 200 metres per day.
Great as a 4×4 (three meters long), it weighs a ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones, which may be the first to record sound on mars. His robotic arm, measuring two metres. A plutonium generator will recharge its batteries.
Once into port, Nasa will attempt to fly the helicopter Ingenuity, 1.8 kg, in air the very end of March, dense as 1% of the earth’s atmosphere. The aim is to prove the feasibility of the concept.
Nasa is very interested in planetary exploration by air, because rovers can travel only a few tens of kilometres in their life, and are vulnerable to sand dunes and other landforms, even if Perseverance will be able to climb obstacles high of 40 cm. A first flying drone (Dragonfly) will be sent in 2026 on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
The main mission of Perseverance will be to look for traces of past life on Mars, because scientists have good evidence that there are more than three billion years, the planet was warmer and covered in rivers and lakes, of ingredients that have been born, at least on Earth, of microbes… Before the red planet became cold and dry, for a reason that still escapes to the planétologues.
Another first: Perseverance will take thirty rock samples in tubes, a future mission for an american-european will recover to be back to Earth, at the earliest in 2031.
The indisputable evidence of past life on Mars will most likely not be confirmed, if it exists, before the analysis of these samples the next decade, said Tuesday, Thomas Zurbuchen, chief scientist of Nasa.
What a life?
“We are looking likely to be a form of life very primitive, not more advanced forms such as bones or fossils of ferns,” said Ken Farley, project scientist at the university of Caltech.
Nasa chose to land in the crater Jezero, old to 3.8 billion years, and, more precisely, in what looks very much like an old delta.
Deltas form when rivers deposit sediment into a body of water. “The deltas are terrific places to preserve organic material and other types of biosignatures,” says Tanja Bosak, the MIT and a member of the scientific team.
The advantage of Mars, unlike the Earth, is that the crust is not constantly renewed by plate tectonics. On Earth, it is extremely difficult to find the land intact for the past three billion years.
“Mars preserves its surface geology incredibly diverse and complex,” pointed out Lori Glaze, head of programmes of planetary exploration for Nasa. Throughout the history of Mars remains engraved on the surface.
Over 350 geologists, geochemists, astrobiologistes, specialists of the atmosphere and other scientists from around the world, participate in the mission, which will last at least two years, and probably much longer if we are to believe the experience of the previous rovers, very durable.