Synopsis: NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover touched down on the Martian surface. The results of the experiment will determine the quest for life on Mars and the future manned mission to Mars.
Perseverance mission is the most advanced, most expensive, and most sophisticated mobile laboratory sent to Mars. The results will determine the next couple of decades of Martian exploration
Experiments on Mars in the past 30 years:
- Viking missions in the mid-70s: During these missions the first chemical analyses of Martian soil took place. Along with that, four biology experiments to detect biological activity were also conducted.
- In 1984, a study showed that the isotopic composition of rare gases (Xenon, Krypton, Neon, and Argon) in the earth, matched the isotopic ratios of the Martian atmosphere measured by Viking spacecraft. This discovery boosted the understanding of the geochemical evolution of Mars.
- Mars Odyssey spacecraft in 2001: This spacecraft found the hydrogen signature on Mars. This indicated the presence of water ice on Mars.
- Phoenix Mars lander in 2008: NASA sent another spacecraft to Mars. It landed near the Martian South Pole. The lander officially confirmed the presence of water on Mars for the first time.
Why are scientists so interested in Mars?
Scientists are interested in Martian research primarily for two reasons. They are, =
First, life may have evolved in the past on Mars. Further, Mars had conditions similar to earth. There is a possibility that microscopic life evolved on Mars.
Second, Mars is the only planet that humans can visit. It has a temperature ranging from between 20 degrees C at the Equator to minus 125 degrees C at the poles.
What is the significance of the Perseverance mission?
Perseverance focuses on finding life on Mars and will help in a future human mission to that planet.
- Perseverance would bring rock samples back from Mars. This will provide a decisive answer on whether life existed on Mars in the past or not.
- Producing oxygen on Mars is needed for a successful human mission. Perseverance has an instrument known as MOXIE or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment. It will use 300 watts of power to produce about 10 grams of oxygen using atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- This will provide oxygen for breathing and rocket fuel.
- Perseverance will carry the Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX). This will help in looking for underground water on Mars. It could possibly help in the human settlement on Mars if the water is found.
- Apart from that, Perseverance will try to fly a helicopter on Mars (which has a sparse atmosphere). The Mars Helicopter is really a small drone. Currently, long-distance transportation on Mars has to depend on vehicles that rely on rocket engines for powered ascent and powered descent.
- Perseverance is expected to provide a significant understanding of whether a human mission to Mars is possible or not. Not only that, It is expected to give a decisive answer to the question of whether Mars ever had or still has microscopic life on the planet.