NASA's Mars helicopter has San Diego brains

Mars2020 first image

The 2,260-pound rover - partly named in recognition of health care heroes due to the COVID-19 pandemic - landed at the Jezero Crater, a carefully-selected location for Perseverance's mission in astrobiology. But if that early life was ever present, it could still be there today-in the form of fossilized remains and organic material in the ancient silt of the desiccated lake.

Percy, as it is nicknamed, was created to drill down with its 2-metre arm and collect rock samples that might hold signs of bygone microscopic life.

Perseverance promptly sent back a grainy, black-and-white photo of Mars' pockmarked surface, the rover's shadow visible in the frame.

The rover will collect the samples from the planet's Jezero Crater because it is an ancient river delta, meaning that area used to have water and ingredients needed for life.

Moments later, controllers received the rover's first pictures of Mars. "So yes, humanity is going to mars". Plunging through the martian atmosphere while experiencing temperatures of up to 1300°C, the rover deployed a parachute as big as a basketball court as it approached its 7-kilometer-wide landing zone, the most precisely targeted of any NASA Mars lander.

There is one other exciting experiment aboard the rover - a mini-helicopter, known as Ingenuity. If things go well, Ingenuity will become the first aircraft of its kind ever flown on another planet.

Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to travel one way between Mars and Earth, the SUV-sized rover will have already reached the Martian surface - intact or not - by the time its atmospheric entry signal is received at mission control. At the time, all eyes were glued to what is euphemistically referred to as the "seven minutes of terror".

Perseverance's immediate predecessor, the rover Curiosity, landed in 2012 and remains in operation, as does the stationary lander InSight, which arrived in 2018 to study the deep interior of Mars.

It's been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, July.

NASA said: "Perseverance is tasked with searching for tell-tale signs that microbial life may have lived on Mars billions of years ago".

This is the second one-tonne rover put on Mars by the USA space agency. This phase of its entry, descent and landing sequence, or EDL, is known as Òpowered descent.Ó Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land safely on February 18, 2021.

The second image transmitted to Earth after the landing, with the rover's wheel visible at right.

It begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, travelling at almost 12,500 miles per hour and ends about seven minutes later, with Perseverance stationary on the planet's surface. It's a "4-billion-year window into planetary evolution", says Katie Stack Morgan, the mission's deputy project scientist at JPL.

It's engineered to touch down Thursday afternoon using a supersonic parachute to slow its speed. The circle represents where the Perseverance rover is expected to land.

Retuning samples is the logical - and necessary - next step in Mars exploration.

"It is not guaranteed that we will be successful", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Science Mission Directorate's associate administrator, acknowledged.

Nasa and the European Space Agency (Esa) have devised a multi-billion-dollar plan to go fetch these cylinders towards the end of the decade.



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