Illustration of 'Perseverance' on the surface of Mars.NASA
The largest mission to Mars in history has successfully landed on the red planet. The Perseverance exploration vehicle – a prodigy of the one-ton technique developed by the United States together with other European countries, including Spain – landed this Thursday in the Jezero crater at the edge of ten at night, peninsular time. Now begins NASA's most ambitious mission to date with the goal of finding traces of past life.
" Perseverance is alive on the surface of Mars," was heard at NASA's control center shortly after landing, to the applause of the mission team.
If this trip had happened 3,500 million years ago, Perseverance would be in the middle of a large lake 45 kilometers in diameter fed by a river that carries sediment, since that is how it is thought to be the Jezero crater at that time. Mars was then a blue planet like Earth and it is known that in this frozen twin of our planet the basic conditions were given for life to emerge . It was precisely in that era that the first living beings began to emerge on our planet: microbes that probably inhabited lakes, rivers or seas. But millions of years ago the red planet began to lose its atmosphere , its balance was broken and it took a deadly turn until it became the frozen desert that it is today. The scanner has six wheels and is equipped with seven scientific instruments with which to try to analyze the atomic and chemical composition of the bottom of the disappeared lake in search of unmistakable traces of Martian microbes.
“ Perseverance [perseverance in English] is the Martian exploration vehicle most ambitious that NASA has launched ", explained Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of science of the US space agency. The destination to which this mission is directed is" the most complicated in which it has tried to land to date ", The scientist has highlighted.
NASA has always liked to force the drama of landing any type of spacecraft on Mars. Since the beginning of space exploration in the 1950s, one out of every two missions to the red planet has failed. But the US has a record of success that is unmatched in the world: it has successfully landed four mobile rovers on Mars. This rover will be the heaviest, most complex and expensive: about 2,200 million euros.
The decisive part of the landing happened today, with the entry of the spacecraft into the thin atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times less dense than that of the Land. This means that the friction of the air slows down much less the breakneck speed of entry, of about 20,000 kilometers per hour. The retrorockets, the huge parachute and a crane have made the rover come to a halt at the speed of a person walking. NASA has broadcast live – 11 minutes late due to distance – the entire landing. The most exciting thing has been the "seven minutes of terror" prior to landing.
One minute after entering the atmosphere, the spacecraft reached its peak temperature due to the friction of the air: 1,300 degrees, which had to withstand its heat shield. Following the deployment of the parachute, nearly 22 meters in diameter, as a seven-story building, and its subsequent unhooking, a completely new device came into play: the TRN. It is an artificial intelligence system that takes photos of the ground and “thinks” about the most suitable place to land. At 21 meters above the ground, a crane deployed some seven meter long chains from which the valuable
car was hung. The entire landing sequence is automatic. Those responsible for mission control have been unable to do anything to correct the trajectory or solve problems. The United States has become the only country to have landed five consecutive rovers on Mars; a milestone that will put it ahead of China, its main competitor, which in a few weeks will try to reach Mars with an orbiter, a lander and a mobile vehicle, all the first time, something that has never been done before.
The Perseverance landing has been documented like no other mission. The ship carries cameras that recorded the arrival to the red planet and also microphones that record the sound of the planet. It will take the scientific and technical team just over a month to verify that all Perseverance systems are working properly before starting the operations phase. On this occasion, NASA has equipped its vehicle with a fast-moving mode that will allow it to cover much more distance in a short time.
One of the main objectives within the Jezero crater will be the old delta that formed the river that emptied into the great lagoon. The official mission will last a little less than two years, although it will probably be much longer. If all goes well, those in charge of the mission want to visit the area of the crater through which the old river entered and, later, go to the other area of the hole through which the waters flowed. They are the most interesting places where there may still be organic molecules or minerals that could prove that there was life on Mars.
“We think the best places to look for life markers in Jezero will be the bottom of the lake or the shores, where there could be carbonate minerals, which tend to preserve certain fossils very well, "explains Ken Williford, one of the mission's scientists, in a NASA press release. "But we must remember that we are looking for primitive microbes in an alien world," he stresses.
Perseverance is going to pave the way for a more ambitious future goal: to bring earth and rocks from Mars for the first time. The car is equipped with a system to select the most interesting samples, seal them in a metal container and leave them on the surface. In the future, other missions would come to collect them. The reason is simple: no matter how advanced the instruments on board this car are, proving beyond any doubt that fossils or traces of life have been found is a task that can only be done on Earth.
“As Carl Sagan said [famous American scientist creator of the Cosmos series], if we see a porcupine looking at the camera we will know that there is life on Mars and probably there was in the past, ”explains Gentry Lee, engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But based on previous experiences, this is extremely unlikely. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and discovering that there was life somewhere beyond Earth would certainly be extraordinary ”, he concludes.
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newsletter Source: Elpais