Mars has been the dream destination for astronomers for a long time, and there’s no wonder why. Our neighbouring planet is also located in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ just like Earth, which makes Mars a good candidate for harbouring life forms at some point in history.
Early 2021 will also mark a historic moment for astronomy: the touchdown of the Perseverance rover on Mars. NASA will deploy the rover over a distance of about 470 million kilometres. Both Perseverance and the Ingenuity helicopter drone are part of the Mars 2020 mission of NASA. The launch occurred at the end of July, and the landing on the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater is scheduled for February 18, 2021.
The mission costs $2.4 billion
Landing the rover on Mars costs NASA a fortune, and it’s totally worth it considering that the future of humanity is at stake. The mission aims at studying the Red Planet’s habitability more and collecting samples of rock and soil. Astronomers are optimistic that such info will prove itself very useful in the context of future missions on Mars with humans onboard.
Behold the official trailer of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission:
The distance between Earth and Mars is hundreds of times larger than the one that separates us from the Moon. Ironically or not, NASA’s upcoming Artemis mission will return people on our natural satellite with the purpose of making Mars the next destination.
Colonizing Mars is a ‘must’
Many space agencies, including NASA, are hoping to colonize our neighbouring planet one day. It certainly cannot happen in the near future, but any small step towards that goal can count. Planet Earth cannot provide the human race with resources forever, which means finding a new home elsewhere in the Cosmos is mandatory.
A car-sized rover
NASA’s Perseverance rover measures only 10 feet long if we don’t include the robotic arm, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall. The machine also weighs a bit more than a ton, and it’s based on the Curiosity rover configuration of Mars Science Laboratory. Perseverance is equipped with computers, internal heaters, cameras and other instruments that can provide info about the environment, antennas for speaking and listening, and more.
NASA aims to create oxygen on Mars
The Red Planet has far less oxygen in its atmosphere than Earth, which is a major hindrance if we want to live on Mars someday. Thanks to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment device that’s mounted on the Perseverance rover, NASA hopes to produce more oxygen on Mars in similar way plants do it on Earth. The device will supposedly guzzle CO2 from Mars and electrochemically split its molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The next step will be to combine the oxygen molecules into carbon dioxide.
Michael Hecht, the principal investigator for MOXIE, reveals to us other good news:
If you release the carbon monoxide into the Mars atmosphere, eventually it will combine with a very small amount of residual oxygen that’s there and turn back into carbon dioxide.
Less than 0.2 percent of Mars’ atmosphere contains oxygen, the crucial element for all the life forms that dwell on Earth.
During this year’s July, a total of three space missions were sent towards Mars. The national space agencies of China (Tianwen-1, meaning a lander, an orbiter, and a rover) and the United Arab Emirates (the Hope orbiter) have sent the other two missions to the Red Planet. All three missions will arrive at our neighbouring planet in February 2021.