NASA's latest mission to Mars could hold the key to discovering life on the Red Planet. With state-of-the-art instruments and revolutionary technology, it's time to meet Perseverance, the Mars 2020 rover.
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What is NASA's Mars 2020 mission?
The next NASA Mars mission aims to send an advanced robotic rover called Perseverance to explore the Martian surface.
The rover will perform numerous scientific missions during its two-year mission, including searching for signs of life on Mars.
Although the Mars Curiosity Rover (NASA's previous mission to the Red Planet) continues to operate and send back vital scientific data, the Perseverance rover will allow NASA to explore new areas of the planet Mars, and begin to test technology that could pave the way for humans to travel to Mars in the future.
NASA Mars mission facts
Rover name: Perseverance
Launch date: between 17 July and 5 August 2020
Landing date: 18 February 2021
Landing site: Jezero Crater, Mars
Mission duration: At least one Mars year (roughly 687 Earth days)
What is the name of NASA's new Mars rover?
NASA has named the new Mars rover Perseverance.
In 2019 NASA ran a competition asking US school children to name the Mars rover. A final shortlist of nine names were chosen, and the public were able to vote for their favourite. The winning entry, submitted by middle school student Alexander Mather, was revealed on 5 March 2020.
How long will it take to get to Mars?
The rover is due to land on the surface of Mars on 18 February 2021, meaning that NASA is expecting the mission to take around seven months to reach Mars.
How big is NASA's Perseverance rover?
NASA's Perseverance rover, at 3 metres long and 2.7 metres wide, is about the size of a small car. It is similar in size to NASA’s Curiosity Rover, although it is about 150kg heavier.
Perseverance Mars rover size and dimensions
- Length: 3m
- Width: 2.7m
- Height: 2.2m
- Weight: 1050kg
Will NASA's Perseverance rover find life on Mars?
Possibly. The search for life on Mars is certainly a key objective of the Mars 2020 mission.
According to NASA, “The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.”
All four science objectives for the Mars 2020 mission relate to searching for signs of life on Mars. The rover could even enable humans to live on Mars in the future: one of its instruments is designed to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
What will the Perseverance rover do?
NASA has identified four mission objectives for the Mars 2020 rover. They are:
- Determine whether life ever existed on Mars: the rover will look for preserved signs of life in an area of Mars that may have been favourable to life in the planet’s past
- Characterise the climate of Mars: the rover’s instruments will investigate past Martian climate conditions, and search for ancient signs that the planet was once habitable.
- Characterise the geology of Mars: a special drilling tool included in the rover will allow it to collect rock samples, seal and store them on the Martian surface. These ‘cached’ samples could then be retrieved during future missions to Mars.
- Prepare for human exploration of Mars: The rover includes a tool that will attempt to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. This ability could pave the way for future human missions to Mars.
To complete these scientific missions, the rover has been fitted with seven different scientific instruments, each designed to perform different experiments or test new technology.
These include an advanced ultraviolet scanner and microscopic camera known as SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals). Just like its detective namesake, SHERLOC will look for the tiniest clues that could help solve the mystery of past life on Mars. It will also carry samples of astronaut spacesuit material, testing to see whether they can withstand the harsh Martian environment.
Another experiment called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) will attempt to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. If successful, this technology could be used in future human missions to Mars.
The rover will even include a small autonomous helicopter, which if successful could scout for future areas to explore on the surface of Mars.
Where is the Mars landing site for NASA's Perseverance rover?
The 45km-wide Jezero Crater is the site of an ancient lake and river delta, and therefore a “fantastic place” to search for possible Martian life says lead scientist Ken Farley.
Evidence of life could be preserved in the rocks of the ancient lake bed. The rover will analyse and take samples of what it finds during its progress across the surface.
Where is the Perseverance rover now?
The Perseverance rover has recently arrived at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final preparations for launch.
Who else is going to Mars in 2020?
Because of the favourable alignment of Earth and Mars, 2020 is a major year for missions to Mars. The European Space Agency was preparing to send its own rover – Europe’s first – to the planet, although this mission has now been delayed until 2022.
China meanwhile is planning to send a spacecraft to Mars, which will include both a Martian rover and orbiter. The United Arab Emirates also plan to send an orbiter to Mars in 2020.
Upcoming missions from NASA, The European Space Agency, SpaceX and more
How far away is Mars?
The reason why so many Mars missions are planned for summer 2020 is because this is the period when the distance between Earth and Mars is at its smallest. Every two years or so, the orbits of Earth and Mars bring the two planets (relatively) close together.
This next Mars 'close approach' will be on 6 October 2020. At this point, Mars will be just 38.6 million miles away from the Earth.
The average distance between the Earth and Mars is 140 million miles.