NASA's new Mars rover launches to are trying to find indicators of earlier lifestyles

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“It’s really kind of a key of a whole bunch of new research that we’re doing that is focused on the question … is there life out there?” Zurbuchen said.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Mike Watkins quipped about the California quake: “It was just the Earth being excited about going to Mars. It was a very minor event. Everything’s fine, and we’re on our way to Mars.”

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NASA's new Mars rover launches to seek signs of past life

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Perseverance is due to land at the base of a 250m-deep crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars.

Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harboured life. Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

NASA's new Mars rover launches to seek signs of past life

This was the third launch from Earth to Mars this month, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China. The state from which the rover was launched, Florida, is currently one of the hot spots in the United States for the coronavirus pandemic.

Aboard Perseverance is a 1.8 kg autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars. The thin Martian atmosphere – 99 per cent less dense than Earth’s – poses a challenge to Ingenuity, which was designed to be light, with rotor blades that are larger and spin more quickly than what would be needed for a helicopter of its mass on Earth.

Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – that have explored the geology of expansive Martian plains and detected signs of past water formations, among other discoveries. NASA also has successfully sent three landers – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight.

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The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under a program that envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the more ambitious crewed journey to Mars.

Perseverance will conduct an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into propellant for future rockets launching off the Martian surface, or to produce breathable oxygen for future astronauts.

The rover also is intended to help bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules and leaving them in various places for retrieval by a future “fetch” rover. That planned rover is expected to launch the samples back into space to link up with other spacecraft for an eventual Earth homecoming around 2031.

Reuters

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