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The dawn of a new era in the exploration of Mars

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 23 feb 2021, 9:10 por Plataforma Sites Dgac
On Thursday, February 18, 2021, NASA marked another milestone in space exploration when its Perseverance robotic probe successfully reached the surface of Mars after a seven-months journey through space.
One of the first color images taken by the Perseverance probe after its landing on Mars.

An illustration of the Perseverance vehicle with its seven specialized instruments to take pictures and analyze the composition of the Martian elements.

Source: NASA.
On July 30, 2020, Perseverance and the small Ingenuity helicopter took off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) two-stage Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a mission that once again puts the Red Planet in the center stage for astronomers and astrophysicists.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally — when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.

“The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet,” he said.

Specific objectives 

After a 471 million kilometer journey from Earth, the Perseverance probe successfully deployed a parachute that allowed the rover to touch down at the Jezero Crater, an ancient 28 miles wide dry river basin located in the northern hemisphere of Mars.

About 3.5 billion years ago, a river flowed there into an aquatic body about the size of Lake Tahoe, where it deposited sediment in a delta. The mission team chose that landing site because they believe that ancient river delta and lake deposits may have collected and preserved organic molecules and other possible signs of microbial life.

Indeed, one of the main objectives of the Perseverance robotic probe is to search for signs of life in Mars’ remote past, particularly in special rocks that are known to preserve signs of life over time.

The other objectives are to explore the landing site which shows great geological diversity; evaluate the habitability of the planet in the remote past; collect rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by a future NASA mission; and testing technology for future robotic and human exploration.

For this, the ten feet long, 9 feet wide, 7 feet high and 2,260 pounds vehicle (about the size of a compact car) has several specialized instruments, supervised by different specialists From the earth.

Complex research systems 

For example, Mastcam-Z is an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. Another camera, called the SuperCam, can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance.

PIXL is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials and will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before.

Meanwhile, MOXIE is an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide that, if successful, could be used by future astronauts on Mars as fuel to burn to return to Earth, besides using it to produce oxygen to breathe on the Red Planet.

Perseverance is the most advanced rover and robotic probe ever sent to Mars. It includes an automatic piloting system for navigating the Martian surface, called Terrain Relative Navigation, which will allow the rover to move more quickly over the Martian soil.

First flight on Mars

Along with the main probe also traveled to Mars the Ingenuity small helicopter, which will carry out the first propelled test flights within the thin Martian atmosphere. It is a small autonomous aircraft 49 centimeters high and 1.8 kilograms in weight that traveled attached to the Perseverance probe.

Its performance during these experimental flights will contribute to decision making and to consider the use of small helicopters for future missions on Mars, where they could have a supporting role as robotic explorers, surveying the terrain from above, or as a proper flying vehicle to transport scientific instruments.

“The most important and essential thing is that (Perseverance) is going to collect soil samples, from rocks, in ancient Martian lakes where we will be able to look for evidence of past life microfossils. And the interesting thing is that these samples are going to be stored in tubes that will be able to return to Earth in future missions,” said University of Chile’s astronomer Diego Mardones.

Other missions

Mars has captured the interest of humanity since ancient times, but science was able to study it up close only since mid-1965, when NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew-by the Red Planet for the first time and sent to Earth the first ever close up images of the martian surface.

Taking advantage of a once every two years period in which Mars and Earth are at their closest, other exploration missions were also launched last year. Thus, on February 9, 2021, the United Arab Emirates’ Amal, or “Hope”, probe successfully reached Mars and will orbit the planet for 687 days to study its climatology and the composition of its atmosphere.

The next day, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 began orbiting Mars to study the planet from there for a few months and then try to land an exploration vehicle on the Martian surface in May or June.

In addition to that, since 2012 another vehicle sent by NASA, Curiosity, has been exploring Mars and the planet is being orbited by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe, among others.

Source: NASA.