NASA's Perseverance rover sets off to seek life on the Red Planet

NASA’s Perseverance rover sets off to seek life on the Red Planet

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launched the Atlas 5 launch vehicle with the new Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity compact helicopter. Over the next 7 months, the spacecraft will move towards Mars, after which they will land on the Red Planet and search for extraterrestrial life.

The new Mars rover Perseverance is based on the same platform as the Curiosity rover currently operating on the surface of the Red Planet. However, the main mission of the new rover will be different. His task will be to search for organic compounds potentially indicating the presence of microorganisms in the past or present. In addition, he will study the climate of Mars and try to synthesize oxygen from its atmosphere.

An additional and no less important task of the new rover will be the collection of samples of Martian soil. As part of a future NASA mission to the Red Planet, scheduled for 2026, when another exploration spacecraft is sent to our planetary neighbor, these samples are planned for the first time in history to be delivered to Earth for study.

Another interesting feature of the new mission is that, together with the Mars rover, NASA sent samples of various materials to the Red Planet, which in the future will be used to manufacture astronaut suits for manned missions to the Moon, and later to Mars itself. These materials must be both strong, lightweight and heat resistant to withstand harsh space, lunar and Martian conditions.

On board the rover are samples of a polycarbonate helmet visor, as well as several samples of various Teflon. In addition, samples of ortho-fabric were sent to Mars, which is a combination of materials such as Gore-Tex, Kevlar and Nomex flame retardant fabric. A similar material is already used in the outer skin of astronauts’ spacesuits. Scientists and engineers also want to test Vectran, a cut and tear resistant synthetic fabric that is used in the manufacture of astronaut gloves. The challenge is to test how the strength of these materials will change over time in the extreme conditions of the Martian environment.

As for the Ingenuity helicopter, it was sent to Mars, rather, to test the possibility of using such devices. If it can take off, it will be the first controlled atmospheric flight outside of Earth. In addition to testing the possibility of flight in the Martian atmosphere, his task will also be to reconnoitre the surface around the rover.

The Perseverance and Ingenuity spacecraft are expected to arrive on Mars on February 18, 2021. They will land in the Jezero crater. Scientists believe that this place was in the past a river delta. As in the case of the Curiosity rover, the new rover will first decelerate with a heat shield, then with parachutes, and for the final part of the landing will be responsible for the “Sky Crane” – a special platform with rocket engines that hovers low above the surface of Mars and lowers the vehicles on cables. The nominal post-landing mission period is one year. But if there are no insurmountable technical difficulties, the rover will be able to work on the surface of the Red Planet for a longer period.

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