NASA’s Perseverance Rover Is Looking for Life on Mars

NASA’s latest Mars rover is done with its testing and is ready to embark upon its first scientific mission. After landing on the planet in February, the Perseverance rover has been busy trying out its many instruments—converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen that would be needed for manned missions, flying a helicopter and taking photos.

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Now, it will begin its mission: looking for evidence of life. Over the coming months, it will use a variety of sophisticated instruments to scan the planet’s Jezero Crater for places of interest, drill into rocks and soil, and collect specimens to be retrieved and brought to Earth by future spacecraft.

High-tech tool kit

The rover is packed with 23 cameras, sensors, a laser and a drill-equipped robotic arm. NASA scientists will spend the next two years using the instruments to learn more about Jezero Crater and home-in on areas they might like to study in greater depth.

Mastcam-Z

Zoomable panoramic cameras

SuperCam

Laser micro-imager

SHERLOC

Ultraviolet spectrometer

Coring drill

Rotary percussive drill

SuperCam

Laser micro- imager

Mastcam-Z

Zoomable panoramic cameras

SHERLOC

Ultraviolet spectrometer

Coring drill

Rotary percussive drill

Mastcam-Z

Zoomable panoramic cameras

SuperCam

Laser micro- imager

SHERLOC

Ultraviolet spectrometer

Coring drill

Rotary percussive drill

The two zoomable cameras that make up the rover’s Mastcam-Z imager survey the terrain. The SuperCam laser is being used to detect rocks’ chemistry. The rover gathers more detailed chemical and mineralogical information using the spectrometers on its arm instruments: the Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, and the Scanning for Habitable Environments With Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals, or Sherloc.

The rover is equipped with a computer processor running at up to 200 megahertz, slow compared with a modern computer. It also has communications equipment, internal temperature controls and a large battery in the rear to ensure it has plenty of power.

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars more than two weeks ago. Jennifer Trosper from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains how the rover will explore the Martian landscape and search for signs of life. Photo: NASA

Safe storage

One of Perseverance’s main jobs is collecting rock and soil samples. The rover is carrying 43 sample tubes and five witness tubes, used to ensure sample tubes aren’t corrupted. The large robotic arm transports the sample tube inside the belly of the vehicle. There it is moved by the smaller sample-handling arm to be processed. The sample’s volume is measured, an image of the sample is taken, and the tube is hermetically sealed. The tubes will later be deposited on the Martian surface in what NASA calls a sample cache depot. The depot’s coordinates will be recorded based on landmarks and measurements from Mars’ orbiting satellites.

1. Rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm drills about 2 inches into the soil to gather core samples or rock from promising areas and collects them into sample tubes.

2. Samples are placed in a storage rack inside the rover and sealed.

3. It carries the sealed tubes until it finds an appropriate place on Mars to deposit them, to be retrieved by a future mission.

1. Rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm drills about 2 inches into the soil to gather core samples or rock from promising areas and collects them into sample tubes.

2. Samples are placed in a storage rack inside the rover and sealed.

3. It carries the sealed tubes until it finds an appropriate place on Mars to deposit them, to be retrieved by a future mission.

1. Rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm drills about 2 inches into the soil to gather core samples or rock from promising areas and collects them into sample tubes.

2. Samples are placed in a storage rack inside the rover and sealed.

3. It carries the sealed tubes until it finds an appropriate place on Mars to deposit them, to be retrieved by a future mission.

Core samples

Tubes gather samples of about 0.5 x 2.4 inches, averaging about 0.4- 0.5 ounces a tube.

Core samples

Tubes gather samples of about 0.5 x 2.4 inches, averaging about 0.4- 0.5 ounces a tube.

Core samples

Tubes gather samples of about 0.5 x 2.4 inches, averaging about 0.4- 0.5 ounces a tube.

Witness tubes are similar to the collection tubes but used to ensure the integrity of the Martian samples. They are preloaded with material designed to trap molecular and particulate contaminants. Like the sample tubes, they will be opened and sealed on Mars as a recording of the ambient environment.

Possible route of exploration

Able to cover ground three times faster than any previous Mars rover, Perseverance will be exploring a 28-square-mile area in the planet’s northern hemisphere, Jezero Crater. NASA said scientists think that approximately 3.5 billion years ago, a river flowed into a lake the size of Lake Tahoe in the crater, making it a good candidate for finding signs of past life on the planet.

3. Three Forks

Once the rover completes the first leg of its exploration, it will travel north to an area called Three Forks, an ancient fan-shaped delta. The rover may possibly even ascend the delta, driving up a valley wall.

Octavia E. Butler

landing site

1. Séítah

Perseverance’s first stop will be at Séítah-North, where it can view the entire Séítah unit from an overlook.

2. Crater Floor Fractured Rough

The rover will examine whether it’s necessary to explore further south.

Possible areas

of exploration

Octavia E. Butler

landing site

Possible areas

of exploration

1. Séítah

Perseverance’s first stop will be at Séítah-North, where it can view the entire Séítah unit from an overlook.

2. Crater Floor Fractured Rough

The rover will examine whether it’s necessary to explore further south.

3. Three Forks

Once the rover completes the first leg of its exploration, it will travel north to an area called Three Forks, an ancient fan-shaped delta. The rover may possibly even ascend the delta, driving up a valley wall.

Octavia E. Butler

landing site

Possible areas

of exploration

1. Séítah

Perseverance’s first stop will be at Séítah-North, where it can view the entire Séítah unit from an overlook.

2. Crater Floor Fractured Rough

The rover will examine whether it’s necessary to explore further south.

3. Three Forks

Once the rover completes the first leg of its exploration, it will travel north to an area called Three Forks, an ancient fan-shaped delta. The rover may possibly even ascend the delta, driving up a valley wall.

When Perseverance returns to the landing site, completing its first science campaign, it will have traveled up to 3 miles. The rover will then journey north and west to Jezero’s delta region, a fan-shaped area where the ancient river flowed into the lake. NASA hopes to find carbonates, minerals that can preserve fossilized signs of life.

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