Life on Other Planets?

Happy Tuesday, Friends.

In the last few weeks, not one, not two, but three (!) different Mars missions have reached the red planet. To date, there have been a grand total of 49 spacecraft launched to explore our fourth planet from the sun, though almost half of the missions have not been successful.

The planetary Society has a nice map showing every failed, successful, and future mission to Mars, here.

Good news, though – the last three have been successful (so far):

  1. The United Arab Emirates Mars orbiter mission – Hope, launched on July 19, 2020 and entered Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2020.
  2. China’s Tianwen-1 mission launched on July 23, 2020. The orbiter part of the mission arrived at Mars on February 10, 2021 and the lander and rover parts of the mission are proposed to land on Mars in May 2021.
  3. The USA’s Mars Perseverance rover was launched last, on last July 30, but it landed on February 18. The Mars Ingenuity Helicopter hitched a ride with the Perseverance Rover and is waiting to be deployed from the rover.

If you want to see an eight-minute replay of the Perseverance rover landing, you can watch it here.  Another cool video can be found, here.

But you may ask – what is this Perseverance rover you speak of and why is it important?

Built mostly from spare parts from the 2011/2012 Mars Curiosity rover, NASA’s Perseverance rover is a prime example of repurposing, which I like.  The Rover has two cameras that can each zoom from wide angle to telephoto.  What’s cool is that they will send back stereo images which will let NASA build 3-D images of Mars back on earth.  This will let scientists get an even better idea of what the surface of Mars looks like.   And the rover has a little science laboratory on board, able to drill for rocks and tell us about the composition of the rocks, much like Curiosity.  The difference with Perseverance is that it is programmed to seal the little core samples it retrieves into small tubes, which will be left on the surface of Mars for a future mission (that’s still in planning) to land, scoop up the tubes and somehow return them back to Earth.  If successful, this would be the first time more than pictures made it back from the Red planet, which sounds like a pretty nifty souvenir.

But why do all this?  Perseverance and other similar rovers are looking to unlock the big secrets of Mars, such as:  What does it look like?  What is the chemical composition of the surface of Mars?  Was there ever water?  And in the case of Perseverance, was there ever life on Mars?

Perseverance landed in the Jezero crater, which has what scientists believe is a well-preserved river delta.  As we all know, at least on Earth, where there is (or was) water, they may have been life.  And by bringing back rock and soil samples just maybe we can discover evidence of past life, likely in the form of microorganisms.  Such discoveries could pave the way to future manned missions and even colonization of Mars and beyond.

What do you think?  Is there life on other planets?  Feel free to leave a comment, below.


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