On the 18th of February, something historic happened. The Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, developed by the Jet Propulsion laboratory, landed on the Jezero crater on the planet Mars. Only 40 percent of rovers have successfully landed on the Martian planet. The information gathered by this advanced rover will bring us one step closer in our search for signs of past life and will reveal more about Mars’ geological past.
🛸 Let's examine the ambitions of the Mars mission, in both its search for past life and in paving the way for the possibility of introducing human life to Mars.
Percy the rover’s grand Martian Mission.
In the search for biosignatures and organics to paint a clearer picture of Mars’ past, Perseverance benefits from over 10 years of technological advancements from its predecessors (Sojourner, Opportunity, Spirit, and Curiosity.)
Let's take a closer look at a few of Percy’s credentials!
Core Sampling Drill – Percy has a Sample Cashing System, where a robotic arm will drill out cylindrical core samples from the planet’s surface. The samples, in a sample tube, will then be deposited at a designated cashing spot. In 2026 The European space agency will send out a sample fetch rover, that will collect the samples and together with an Earth Return Vehicle, will return these samples back to earth.
MOXY – An oxygen generation device. This is one of the most important devices before we even start to think about human life on Mars. The instrument will attempt to generate oxygen, utilizing the resources of the atmosphere. The International Space Station (ISS) currently generates oxygen through electrolysis with water which needs to be resupplied. The Moxy instrument will use solid oxide electrolysis to break the Carbon Dioxide (which is very prevalent in the Martian air,) into Oxygen and Carbon Monoxide. The Moxy can produce 20 grams of oxygen an hour.
New Sensors – The new Sensors of Percy will use different forms of electromagnetic radiation to examine the terrain of Mars including. The sensors are: The SuperCam- Laser Micro-Imager, The PIXL- X-ray Spectrometer, The Mastcam-Z Panoramic Cameras, The MEDA- Weather Station, The RIMFAX- Surface Radar, and the SHERLOC- Ultraviolet Spectrometer.
👽The SHERLOC instrument on the robotic head will “look for signs of biosignatures using Raman and Luminescence spectroscopy, which will detect chemicals in the soil that would indicate the presence of past life.”
🚀The PIXL X-ray imager will look for “tiny variations in geology that would indicate microbial life has altered its environment, while also being able to detect chemical compositions by observing the fluorescence of the target under x-ray electromagnetic radiation.”
🛸The ground-penetrating radar will be able to scan and provide imagery from 10 meters below the surface of the Martian soil. It will also be able to identify whether any water sources exist below the surface.
🛰You may have seen the first images sent from the rover on landing (which covered news headlines) taken by SuperCam and Mastcam- Z cameras, which are mast-mounted cameras that are equipped with a zoom function, just like a mobile camera.
The rover also has two microphones to allow us to literally hear this new environment.
The Ingenuity Helicopter- No other rover has ever had a helicopter attached to its belly.
While taking photographs, the helicopter will fly for approximately 90 seconds. That’s it! There is no further task for this helicopter to accomplish. This short flight, however, will allow researchers and scientists to examine the possibility of flying rovers for future missions, such as the Dragonfly mission NASA plans to send to Titan.
How did Mars “die out”?
Over 4 billion years ago, Mars is believed to have once been a liveable habitat, which is miles (or years) apart from the dry, dusty, cold habitat we know today. It is also believed that this habitat was protected and flourished within a magnetic field, which was formed by a once liquid core. One plausible theory attributes this change to the cooling of the core, which weakened the magnetic field, allowing it to be stripped away over time to result in the thin atmosphere which we see on Mars today. This brings a host of challenges, which we need to face, in order to make Mars a liveable habitat for the human species.
How will we “resuscitate” Mars?
We need to terraform Mars, changing the geology and climate of the planet, to make it a liveable habitat for humans.
Some convincing theories include:
A satellite- A structure that would consist of a large dipole, which would generate an artificial magnetic field, much stronger than that of Earth. This was proposed by Nasa in 2017.
‘Simulations showed that a shield of this sort would leave Mars in the relatively protected magnetotail of the magnetic field created by the object. A potential result: an end to largescale stripping of the Martian atmosphere by the solar wind, and a significant change in climate.’
Another theory suggests using nuclear bombs to heat up and kickstart the core, to allow for the generation of the magnetic field again. We would first need to drill to the core of Mars with materials (diamond has been proposed) that could withstand the massive heat and pressure of the planet.
However, the transportation of nuclear bombs through space for a nuclear fission reaction does pose a massive risk concern.
Nuclear fusion, which occurs at the core of stars, produces more energy than nuclear fission. If we could find a way to harness this energy, utilizing this option may be feasible...
Another option proposed is just waiting.
The core of Mars may one day just start up again, “as a result of the naturally occurring crystallization in the core which could potentially influence convection,” reactivating the magnetic field once again.
These suggestions are all speculative as of now. However, with more information gathered by Percy and its rolling companions soon to join (rovers from China, Europe, and Russia) we will, step by step start to develop a clearer image of what it takes to make the dream of human life on Mars a reality for all.