“Landing confirmed!” In charge of operations control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Swati Mohan cried happily to the teams in the control room.
NASA immediately released a picture taken by the rover there. “Hello world. My first sight of the house that will be mine forever,” the official account of the rover tweeted with an extraordinary black-and-white image on which the vehicle’s shadow can be seen on the ground.
US President Joe Biden claimed a “historic” landing, evidence he said of “the power of science” and “American ingenuity”.
Perseverance traveled over 470 million kilometers in 203 days. Another American rover, Curiosity, is still in operation elsewhere on the Red Planet.
The maneuver was extremely dangerous and relieved because of the landing site, the Jazero Crater, which was the most risky. After entering the Martian atmosphere at 20,000 km / h, friction with air raised the ship’s temperature to 1300 ° C.
The rover was protected by the heat shield, which was released only after the opening of a huge supersonic parachute. Eight retro-rockets were slowing it down before removing its six wheels, suspended along the cable until it hit the ground.
Find traces of life
For the first time, the US Mars Agency’s “Mars 2020” mission has the clear goal of finding traces of ancient life on the red planet, collecting more than thirty rock samples over several years.
The sealed tubes would then have to be brought back to Earth by a future mission, in the 2030s, to be analyzed and perhaps finally “able to answer one of the questions that has inhabited us for centuries.” Are, namely: Are we, we are alone in the universe? ”Said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of Science at NASA.
Perseverance is the largest and most complex vehicle ever sent to Mars. It weighs one ton and is equipped with a robot more than two meters long.
There is evidence that the mission is also the result of international cooperation: French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country designed one of Rover’s many scientific instruments, participated in the landing at the Paris headquarters of the National Studies Center Space (Cnes). He said, “This is fantastic teamwork. Very proud of it.”
Researchers believe that the Jezero crater was home to a deep lake, which was 3.5 km wide around 3.5 billion years ago. “We have strong evidence that Mars could have lived in the distant past,” Deputy Chief of Mission Ken Williford said at a press conference on Wednesday. “The question is: (on life) is the Earth an anomaly, a stroke of fate?”
First samples should begin this summer. Several routes are planned to be dug into different environments, including the old lake shore, and a delta formed by a river that flows into it.
Scientists are looking for what they call biosignatures: traces of microbial life that “can take all kinds of forms,” such as “chemicals” or “environmental changes”, explained Marykotek’s program director. “We astronomers have dreamed of this mission for decades,” he enthuses.
“Either we find life, and it will be an extraordinary discovery, or it is not, (…) and it would suggest that not all habitable environments are inhabited”, warned Ken Farley, Scientific Project. And that we have to look elsewhere.
The 450 or so team members who will conduct this phase will also work under extraordinary circumstances due to the Kovid-19 epidemic, he insisted: “The mission will be carried from the people’s lounge to the four corners of the world.”
Helicopter and oxygen machine
The first months of the mission, however, will not be devoted to this first objective. Plans for parallel experiments.
NASA specifically wants to prove that it is possible to fly a motorized vehicle on another planet. A helicopter, Baptized Ingenuity, will be able to rise in the air with a density equal to 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Two microphones can also record, for the first time, the sound of Mars.
By sucking up carbon dioxide from Mars’ atmosphere, NASA will experience the production of oxygen directly at the site, which uses the shape of a car battery that works like a plant. This oxygen can be used for breathing by future human settlers, but also as a fuel.
Two American rovers will soon join China: it recently placed its “Tianwen-1” probe into orbit around Mars, including a remote-controlled robot that it should attempt to land around May.