On July 30, 2020 the Perseverance rover will launch into space to start making its way toward Mars. The journey will take seven months. Perseverance’s mission? Search for life on Mars.
The launch is currently scheduled to take place at 7:50 AM EDT (4:50 AM PDT). Perseverance will launch aboard the Atlas V-541 rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The launch period will last a period of three weeks and for around two hours each day. What does this mean? On launch day, Atlas V-541 will have an open window to launch into space for two hours. within those two hours there will be, according to NASA, “a unique launch opportunity every five minutes.” If for any reason, the launch is unable to occur on the 30th, there will be a window of three weeks for the launch to occur.
To watch the launch tune in to the NASA livestream beginning at 7:00 AM EDT.
Perseverance is a rover with a specialization in astrobiology. The rover will land in the Jezero Crater which is a 45-kilometer-wide (28-mile-wide) crater on the western edge of Isidis Planitia. It’s believed that this site could have once been a hotbed of biological activity on the planet.
LOOKING FOR SIGNS OF LIFE
Perseverance will examine Moon rocks and surfaces. By doing so, scientists hope that it will be able to identify environments where microbial life could flourish. the rover will do this by looking for biosignatures – rock types that are well known for record or perserve signs of life over long periods of time.
As defined by NASA, a biosignature is “an object, substance and/or pattern whose origin specifically requires a biological agent.” In looking for biosignatures Perseverance will look at the chemical composition, mineralogy, structure or isotopic composition of rocks. Additionally, it will look to understand how possible biosignature rocks were formed and how they changed over time.
While Perseverance will be looking for and collecting a variety of rocks based on biosignatures, indepth analysis will require the rocks to return to Earth. Therefore, Perseverance will be collecting, organizing, and preparing rocks to eventually return to Earth.
Perseverance rover is designed to assemble a cache of scientifically selected, well-documented samples packaged in such a way that they could be returned to Earth in an as-yet-unplanned future mission, following planetary protection protocols. The ability to collect and to cache scientifically compelling, well-documented samples from in situ rock outcrops is unprecedented in Mars exploration and is the necessary first step in a systematic plan to search for life.
The future mission that will bring the samples back to Earth is currently slated to occur in 2031. The effort to go to Mars, collect samples, and return those samples to Earth is a complicated process that requires teamwork between different NASA centers around the country.
Of the collaboration, Austin Nicholas, MSR Lead Mission Engineer, at JPL stated in an interview with Raquel Villanueva:
“Within NASA, we’ve actually got a number of centers actually working on the different pieces. So we’re partnering with Marshal Space Flight Center for the Mars ascent vehicle, Langley and Ames for the Earth Entry vehicle, Glen for the sample fetch rover wheels, and we’re partnering with Goddard for the payload. And so it’s a whole NASA effort to get Mars Sample Return done.”
For more information on Perseverance’s search for signs of life on Mars, read this really great page about Goal 1.
PREPARING FOR HUMANS
One of Perseverance’s most important jobs will be taking a few steps to start preparations for Human visitors on Mars. These preparations will include testing oxygen production from the Mars’ atmosphere.
Additionally, an interesting piece of technology will be going to Mars with Perseverance. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) is a cube shaped device that will produce oxygen from the Martian carbon-dioxide atmosphere.
MOXIE is small and fits in the front right side of the rover. It’s a stepping stone in technological advancements that will lead to bigger and better ways to produce oxygen for future astronauts.
Image: diagram of MOXIE via NASA
MOXIE Is a Test Model. MOXIE is the size of a car battery. Future oxygen generators that support human missions on Mars must be about 100 times larger.
Perseverance and MOXIE will be running short experiments on Mars to test the instrument’s ability to produce oxygen on Mars. MOXIE works like a tree. It will “inhale” carbon dioxide from Mars’ atmosphere and “exhale” oxygen.
Another important reason for producing oxygen on Mars is to help future astronauts launch from the Martian surface to return back to Earth.
“When we send humans to Mars, we will want them to return safely, and to do that they need a rocket to lift off the planet. Liquid oxygen propellant is something we could make there and not have to bring with us. One idea would be to bring an empty oxygen tank and fill it up on Mars.”
– Michael Hecht, Principal Investigator
MORE MARS PHOTOS THAN EVER
Image: Perseverance’s SuperCam via NASA
Perseverance has more cameras onboard than any rover before it. According to NASA, “The Perseverance rover itself has 19 cameras that will deliver images of the landscape in breathtaking detail.”
Are you exited to for the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission? I know I am!