CAPE CANAVERAL: The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built — a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers — blasted off Thursday as part of an ambitious, long-range project to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth to be analyzed for evidence of ancient life.
NASA’s Perseverance rode a mighty Atlas V rocket into a clear morning sky in the world’s third and final Mars launch of the summer. China and the United Arab Emirates got a head start last week, but all three missions should reach the red planet in February after a journey of seven months and 300 million miles (480 million kilometers).
The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled rover will drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be brought home in about 2031 in a sort of interplanetary relay race involving multiple spacecraft and countries. The overall cost: more than $8 billion.
In addition to addressing the life-on-Mars question, the mission will yield lessons that could pave the way for the arrival of astronauts as early as the 2030s.
“There’s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said just before liftoff. “It is always hard. It’s never been easy. In this case, it’s harder than ever before because we’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic.”
The U.S., the only country to safely put a spacecraft on Mars, is seeking its ninth successful landing on the planet, which has proved to be the Bermuda Triangle of space exploration, with more than half of the world’s missions there burning up, crashing or otherwise ending in failure.
China is sending both a rover an orbiter. The UAE, a newcomer to outer space, has an orbiter en route.
It’s the biggest stampede to Mars in spacefaring history. The opportunity to fly between Earth and Mars comes around only once every 26 months when the planets are on the same side of the sun and about as close as they can get.
Launch controllers wore masks and sat spaced apart at the Cape Canaveral control center because of the coronavirus outbreak, which kept hundreds of scientists and other team members away from Perseverance’s liftoff.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” said Alex Mather, the 13-year-old Virginia schoolboy who proposed the name Perseverance in a NASA competition and traveled to Cape Canaveral for the launch.
If all goes well, the rover will descend to the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021, in what NASA calls seven minutes of terror, in which the craft goes from 12,000 mph (19,300 kph) to a complete stop, with no human intervention whatsoever. It is carrying 25 cameras and a pair of microphones that will enable Earthlings to vicariously tag along.
Perseverance will aim for treacherous unexplored territory: Jezero Crater, a dusty expanse riddled with boulders, cliffs, dunes and possibly rocks bearing signs of microbes from what was once a lake more than 3 billion years ago. The rover will store half-ounce (15-gram) rock samples in dozens of super-sterilized titanium tubes.
It also will release a mini helicopter that will attempt the first powered flight on another planet, and test out other technology to prepare the way for future astronauts, including equipment for extracting oxygen from Mars’ thin carbon-dioxide atmosphere.
The plan is for NASA and the European Space Agency to launch a dune buggy in 2026 to fetch the rock samples, along with a rocket ship that will put the specimens into orbit around Mars. Then another spacecraft will capture the orbiting samples and bring them home.
Samples actually brought home from Mars, not drawn from meteorites discovered on Earth, have long been considered “the Holy Grail of Mars science,” according to NASA’s original and now-retired Mars czar, Scott Hubbard.
To definitively answer the profound question of whether life exists — or ever existed — beyond Earth, the samples must be analyzed by the best electron microscopes and other instruments, far too big to fit on a spacecraft, he said.
“I’ve wanted to know if there was life elsewhere in the universe since I was 9 years old. That was more than 60 years ago,” the 71-year-old Hubbard said from his Northern California cabin. “But just maybe, I’ll live to see the fingerprints of life come back from Mars in one of those rock samples.”
Said Bridenstine: “There is nothing better than bringing samples back to Earth where we can put them in a lab and we can apply every element of technology against those samples to make determinations as to whether or not there was, at one time, life on the surface of Mars.”
Two other NASA landers are also operating on Mars: 2018’s InSight and 2012’s Curiosity rover. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three from the U.S., two from Europe and one from India.
Buildings have been built at a distance of around two kilometres from the border in Lapcha Limi area of Namkha Rural Municipality in Humla: NC lawmaker Rangamati Shahi KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 China has allegedly built at least nine buildings on Nepali land near Nepal-China border in Humla distri Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 The Supreme Court today ordered the government not to induct Bamdev Gautam in the Cabinet or assign him any such post till the apex court issued another order in the case. Gautam was recently nominated to the National Assembly by the president on the government’s recommend Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital at Teku has been seeing a surge in the number of people visiting the hospital for polymerase chain reaction test. The number of people visiting the hospital for the tests has drastically increased after the government al Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 There has been a steady rise in the number of patients, who need ventilator support and intensive care in the course of treatment of the coronavirus disease, across the country. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, 43 persons have been given ventilator ca Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 Hundreds of government officials, mountaineers, fellow Sherpa guides and supporters gathered in Nepal today to mourn the veteran guide who scaled Mount Everest 10 times without supplimentary oxygen. The body of Ang Rita was cremated today according to Buddhist ritua Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 The Meteorological Forecasting Division has predicted moderate to heavy rainfall with thunder and lightning throughout the country till Saturday. “A low-pressure area is now located over Chhattisgarh state of India and is advancing to the west and north-west of Nepal, Read More...
KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 23 The Government of Nepal has issued ‘Procedure on Establishment and Operation of Information and Records Centre’ for local levels. The procedure will come into effect after it is passed by the executive of the concerned local unit. It aims to make the service deliver Read More...
RAUTAHAT, SEPTEMBER 23 The probe committee formed to launch an inquiry into the death of Bijaya Ram of Garuda Municipality, Rautahat, has recommended action against six policemen, including SP Rabiraj Khadka. Police had arrested Bijaya and six others on August 16 in connection with the murder Read More...