NASA Launches Investigation on Mars to Look for Ancient Life

NASA Launches Investigation on Mars to Look for Ancient Life

( – The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is an engineering marvel by any stretch of the imagination. NASA launched it from earth on July 30, 2020 and it landed on Jezero Crater, Mars, on February 18, 2021. At that time, it initiated surface operations (or scientific studies) on Mars and will do so for a period of at least one Martian year (687 Earth days).

The Perseverance Mars rover’s initial operations involved completing a series of systems tests or commissioning. It also supported the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during a month-long demonstration phase which included a series of flight tests to complete its own commissioning process.

On June 1, the Perseverance rover initiated the scientific phase of its Mars mission and headed south to explore the Jezero Crater’s lake bed to search for any traces of ancient microbial life.

Jennifer Trosper, the project manager for the Perseverance Mars rover, said NASA is “putting the rover’s commission phase… in our rearview mirror and hitting the road.”

The Search for Ancient Life

The Perseverance Mars rover’s surface operations consist of four objects that support the search for microbial life, microscopic organisms, like bacteria that lack a cell nucleus or other cell structures bound by a membrane. Microbes also include protists, mostly one-celled organisms lacking any specialized tissues. They are neither plant, animal, or fungus.

The rover’s search for microbial life includes four objectives:

  1. Objective A: Finding rocks that formed or were changed by environments that may have supported ancient microbial life on Mars.
  2. Objective B: Locating rocks capable of preserving any biosignatures (chemical traces) of ancient life.
  3. Objective C: Drilling core samples from roughly 30 locations on the Martian surface determined to be “promising” sites for possible ancient life traces.
  4. Objective D: Testing the ability to produce oxygen from Mars’ heavy carbon dioxide atmosphere to support future Mars missions that include humans.

The Perseverance Mars rover will spend the first several weeks of its first surface campaign driving to a “scenic overlook.” From there, the rover can survey some of Jezero Crater’s oldest geological features. Then, it can take that data and initiate the rover’s online navigational and sampling systems.

The implications of any findings of ancient life are far-reaching. Scientists have been speculating and searching for life on Mars for decades. The Mars 2020 mission could help them learn about possible life beyond Planet Earth and, perhaps, how life could have begun on other planets.

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