Roar writer Scarlett Yu on the new heights for extraterrestrial discoveries that come with the Perseverance Rover landing on Mars.
On February 18, 2021, the next-generation vehicles of the Mars 2020 Exploration Program, the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Helicopter, touched down on the Red Planet. After travelling across the daunting vastness of the universe for 7 months, the Perseverance rover has made a groundbreaking achievement in the field of extraterrestrial exploration, taking the first steps into navigating the unknown backgrounds of the geological landscape and climatic settings of Mars.
Packed with years of technological advancement and meticulous expertise, the rover is most extensively astounded for its structural engineering; an intricate construction of human’s most innovative technologies and scientific instruments. As a successor of NASA’s Curiosity Rover, Perseverance has ascended further as a burgeoning upgrade with embedded software and algorithms as a response to the lessons learned from the environmental obstacles that Curiosity faced while scouting the rocky trails of Mars. The most unprecedented aspect of the rover lies in its grounding navigation systems; unlike the disconnected quality of Curiosity, where every move and step it takes often relied on human control, Perseverance departs itself from the limitations of human supervision and plunges into a fluid movement of autonomous exploration, thanks to the intelligence of a machine learning.
With the more advanced technologies of Perseverance NASA is emboldened with an ambitious and determined vision to find any trace of microbial life on Mars. The mission isn’t merely about landing, but what NASA wants is to be able to utilize an array of instruments and sensors for testing the erratic environment and weather of Mars. With hopes of collecting extensive samples from minerals and organic molecules of rock surfaces, which are believed to be sharing the same carbon-based foundation on Earth, NASA is intent on discovering the existence of ancient microbial life on Mars. These discoveries may lead to pivotal clues of life beyond our planet.
Noting the heightened excitement and anticipation responding to the historic moment of the Perseverance landing on Mars, Steve Jurkzyk, acting NASA Administrator, acclaimed:
“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 towards the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”
One of the most stimulating speculations that scientists have is the possible signs of microbial life on Mars. Scientists are geared towards a bold speculative approach that Mars might have once harboured a livable atmosphere with an ecosystem similar to Earth’s. Over a radically long period of time, Mars had undergone a transformative shift in environmental and atmospheric changes, slowly drifting towards a wide stretch of arid, barren lands and an extremely low atmosphere; only occupying 1% density of Earth’s surface pressure.
To find life on Mars, Perseverance has targeted a perfect landing site, enriched with sufficient deposits of minerals for the rover to collect samples indicative of signs of ancient microbial life. This site, known as the Jezero Crater, was once a huge lake around 3.5 billion years ago. The perceptibly curved ends of the lake tracing the shoreline accumulate a distinct type of minerals, called carbonates, evident on multiple fossils of preserved life on Earth. Because these carbonates could capture subtle changes of environmental patterns over time, they represent a perpetual channel that helps link humans to when and how Mars became the dry, rusty planet it is today. The fact that Mars once inhabited a large, flowing lake is in itself an astonishing discovery because it may significantly imply the existence of various forms of life or ecosystems on the Red Planet.
After decades of intense research and technological advancements, NASA is now better than ever equipped for deeper dives into space exploration. Though extraterrestrial life hasn’t been detected so far, what NASA accomplished just a few weeks ago is a reassuring note of hope for the anticipated search of ancient life on Mars; a pioneering step in opening up human perspectives toward the universe and also establishing the purpose for future space missions.
Perservenerave once again reminds us that as people we are explorers, and as we have travelled the land and the seas we now turn our gaze ever further into the heavens.