(WSVN) – CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA rover streaked toward a landing on Mars on Thursday within the riskiest step but in an epic quest to convey again rocks that might answer whether or not life ever existed on the crimson planet.
Ground controllers on the house company’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, settled in nervously for the descent of Perseverance to the floor of Mars, lengthy a deathtrap for incoming spacecraft. It takes a nail-biting 11 1/2 minutes for a sign that will verify success to achieve Earth.
The landing of the six-wheeled car would mark the third go to to Mars in simply over a week. Two spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China swung into orbit across the planet on successive days final week.
All three missions lifted off in July to benefit from the shut alignment of Earth and Mars, touring some 300 million miles in practically seven months.
Perseverance, the most important, most superior rover ever despatched by NASA, stood to grow to be the ninth spacecraft to efficiently land on Mars, each considered one of them from the U.S.
The car-size, plutonium-powered rover was aiming for NASA’s smallest and trickiest goal but: a 5–by-4-mile strip on an historical river delta stuffed with pits, cliffs and fields of rock.
Scientists consider that if life ever flourished on Mars, it could have occurred 3 billion to 4 billion years in the past, when water nonetheless flowed on the planet.
Percy, as it’s nicknamed, was designed to drill down with its 7-foot (2-meter) arm and gather rock samples that may maintain indicators of bygone microscopic life. The plan referred to as for 3 to 4 dozen chalk-size samples to be sealed in tubes and put aside on Mars to be retrieved by a fetch rover and introduced homeward by one other rocket ship, with the aim of getting them again to Earth as early as 2031.
Scientists hope to answer one of many central questions of theology, philosophy and house exploration.
“Are we alone in this sort of vast cosmic desert, just flying through space, or is life much more common? Does it just emerge whenever and wherever the conditions are ripe?” mentioned deputy project scientist Ken Williford. “Big, basic questions, and we don’t know the answers yet. So we’re really on the verge of being able to potentially answer these enormous questions.”
China’s spacecraft contains a smaller rover that additionally might be in search of proof of life — if it makes it safely down from orbit in May or June.
Perseverance’s descent has been described by NASA as “seven minutes of terror,” through which flight controllers can solely watch helplessly. The preprogrammed spacecraft was designed to hit the Martian ambiance at 12,100 mph (19,500 kph), then use a parachute to sluggish it down and a rocket-steered platform referred to as a sky crane to decrease the rover the remainder of the way in which to the floor.
Mars has proved a treacherous place: In the span of lower than three months in 1999, a U.S. spacecraft was destroyed upon getting into orbit as a result of engineers combined up metric and English models, and an American lander crashed on Mars after its engines reduce out prematurely.
NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to convey the rocks residence. Perseverance’s mission alone prices practically $3 billion.
The solely method to verify — or rule out — indicators of previous life is to research the samples on this planet’s greatest labs. Instruments sufficiently small to be despatched to Mars wouldn’t have the required precision.
“The Mars sample return project is probably the most challenging thing we’ve ever attempted within NASA,” mentioned planetary science director Lori Glaze, “and we don’t do any of these things alone.”
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