An intrepid NASA rover is bearing down on Mars for an epic landing on Thursday (Feb. 18) and a brand new National Geographic documentary will let you share within the pleasure of the mission, which goals to hunt indicators of historical life and maybe assist return samples to Earth sooner or later.
The NASA Perseverance rover will endure a brand new “seven minutes of terror” sequence Thursday (Feb. 18) to focus on the precise spot on the Red Planet’s floor in Jezero Crater and contact down inside driving distance of a former river delta that will host stays of Martian microbes. The rover will cache probably the most promising samples to kick off a sample-return mission to Earth later within the decade.
It wasn’t a simple journey to get even this far, as the brand new National Geographic present “Built for Mars: The Perseverance Rover” remembers. (The present will premiere at 8 p.m. EST or 7 p.m. CST on Thursday; verify native listings for extra particulars in your time zone or nation.)
You can watch the Mars landing stay right here and on Space.com’s homepage, courtesy of NASA, starting at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT). The landing is predicted at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT).
Related: How to observe NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars
Perseverance rover’s Mars landing: Everything you must know
Book of Mars: $22.99 at Magazines Direct
Within 148 pages, discover the mysteries of Mars. With the most recent technology of rovers, landers and orbiters heading to the Red Planet, we’re discovering much more of this world’s secrets and techniques than ever earlier than. Find out about its panorama and formation, uncover the reality about water on Mars and the search for life, and discover the likelihood that the fourth rock from the solar could sooner or later be our subsequent residence.View Deal
The rover’s launch in July 2020 unexpectedly came about in the course of a world pandemic that erupted months earlier than, requiring bodily distancing by no means earlier than wanted in the course of the period of area exploration. The present, National Geographic Channel mentioned in a press release, “shines a spotlight on the essential but little-known role of the flight technicians — the mechanics, machinists, and other hands-on workers who are entrusted with the crucial job of turning the scientists’ goals and the engineers’ designs into reality, with one-of-a-kind hardware built for Mars.”
NASA additionally introduced a few of these behind-the-scenes voices to the fore in interviews this month. Among these was NASA’s deputy mission scientist for the Perseverance mission, Ken Williford, who instructed Space.com the place Perseverance’s mission matches into future sample-return plans.
“Mars 2020 is the first part of what would be a multi-mission sample-return campaign,” Williford mentioned, utilizing the Perseverance mission’s unique designation. “Our job is to select and collect the best possible samples in our exploration area, and then place them safely on the surface of Mars. And then some follow-on missions that could launch as early as 2026 would be required to go and pick up our samples, get them into Mars’ orbit, and then … fly them back to Earth.”
Earth is an ideal location to review Mars rocks. On missions to the Martian floor, the logistics of spaceflight constrain how a lot scientific tools engineers can ship to the floor of the Red Planet. But pattern return can be a tough mission that additionally requires further procedures to guard us from any potential Martian microbes.
But Williford mentioned any proof of Martian life can be helpful to place Earth’s life in context. “We have a great fossil record of life on Earth that extends all the way back to about 3.5 billion years ago,” he mentioned. At that point, organisms known as stromatolites constructed microbial mats which have fossilized. “They’re these wrinkly layered structures that are preserved in the rocks.”
That mentioned, we might must be completely certain that any proof of Martian life can’t be defined by different processes not associated to life, Williford cautioned. “We would require particularly extraordinary evidence. [But] we’re quite confident that … we could observe something like this, which would really, absolutely have us jumping up and down with excitement,” he mentioned.
When Martian samples arrive on Earth, NASA and its companions will take an abundance of precautions to guard humanity from potential contamination, simply because the company did when it first gathered rocks from the moon. How this will occur remains to be an ongoing dialog, lead planetary safety engineer Moogega Cooper instructed Space.com, however we all know the big-picture aim.
“I love to equate it to going to a national park where there’s the Leave No Trace policy, right?” Cooper mentioned of a rover like Perseverance alighting on the Martian floor. “When we go and explore different planets, including Mars, we want to make sure that we’re not bringing any microbial hitchhikers with us that may contaminate the surface of Mars or may affect our science. And then the second part is, eventually we hope to bring the samples back. So we want to make sure that we protect our own Earth’s biosphere from any inadvertent contamination, too.”
Part of the dialogue about returning samples will contain quite a lot of checkpoint along the journey to Earth, Cooper mentioned. “There are going to be a lot of checkpoints, and if it doesn’t meet that safety checkpoint, it’s not coming back,” she mentioned. “So at least, even though the conversations are ongoing, we could all be assured that everyone’s trying to get this done in the best way possible, in the safest way possible.”
Visit Space.com Thursday for full protection of the Perseverance Mars rover’s landing on the Red Planet.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.