The six-wheeled robot is rapidly approaching Mars after a seven-month 470 million km journey from Earth is the most challenging part of its mission

It must safely settle on the Red Planet – a task that has confused so many spaceships before

But when perseverance succeeds, it has an amazing opportunity to find past life signs on Mars

A scientific mission has never been to the planet with such a sophisticated suite of instruments Never before has a robot been targeted at such a promising location

The Jezero crater, the intended touchdown zone, shows in satellite images all the features that would have resulted from a huge lake. And where there was plenty of water, there was perhaps also biology

Persistence will sift and drill the sediments to look for traces of ancient microbial activity. The most favorable examples are packed for return to Earth through later missions

“But before we can get this surface mission underway, we have to land on Mars, and that’s always a challenging feat,” said Matt Wallace, Nasa’s assistant project manager for perseverance

“This is one of the most difficult maneuvers in the space business. Almost 50% of the spaceships that were sent to the surface of Mars have failed So we know that we have to stop our work in order to land safely in Jezero “

It will be with more than 20Plunge 000 km / h into the diluted air and it has to be reduced to almost walking pace until it reaches the surface – a disheartening prospect that the NASA engineers half-joke call the “seven” minutes of terror “

The robot’s protective pod does most of the work in scrubbing entry speed, but the final three minutes of braking and surface placement require a supersonic parachute and a rocket jet pack or “sky crane”

Much is made of the difficulty of climbing Mars missions and it is true that many have failed, but the statistics actually speak for endurance

Of the 14 attempts to land on the planet, eight were successful – all Americans. In fact, NASA only got something wrong once in 1999

Engineers will follow mission control procedures at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California

Telemetry of the rover during its descent is relayed from an overflying satellite – the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – the team will also hear a series of low-data tones coming back straight from the robot itself

With a little luck we could even see the first pictures of Jezero a few minutes later

Jezero is named after a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In some Slavic languages, the word “jezero” also means “lake” – which should explain the fascination

In this 500 m deep bowl, huge amounts of water once flowed through the west wall to collect on the crater floor

Where the water entered it even deposited sediments to form a delta Persistence will try to land next to this feature

Jezero features several types of rock, including clays and carbonates, which have the potential to preserve the type of organic molecules that would indicate the past existence of life

The “bathtub ring” made of sediments deposited on the shores of the old lake is particularly tempting. Here, what on earth are called stromatolites could find persistence

“In some lakes, microbial mats and carbonates can interact to form these large structures, these large layer mounds,” explained Dr Briony Horgan, a member of the science team at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana

“If we see something like this in Jezero, we will prepare for it right away because it could be the holy grail of Mars astrobiology,” she told BBC News

While scientists will be immersed in Jezero’s rocks and their chemistry about past life on Mars, the public can simply get lost in the feeling of experiencing another planet in unprecedented detail

The rover lands with more than 20 cameras (four are on the sky crane, which is sent to crash after touchdown) These work in color Some are zoomable They will also make films

In addition, two microphones go to the surface.We will hear the sound of the wind rushing past the rover and the sound of the robot’s wheels making as they crunch over the rocky terrain

Of great interest will be the experiment of flying a mini helicopter that has a ride with endurance hitched up. This will be dropped on the ground under the robot in the weeks after landing and should include at least five short flights “Wright Brothers” moment described on Another World

During this time, a few dozen drilled rock samples are expected to be temporarily stored in small tubes that will remain on the surface

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have come up with a billion dollar plan to pick up these cylinders towards the end of the decade

It will be a complex endeavor with a second rover, a Martian rocket and a giant satellite sending the Jezero materials home

“We would like to send these follow-up missions in 2026 so that we can bring the samples back to Earth in 2031,” said Dr David Parker, director of robotics and human space at Esa

Even if persistence discovers what looks like a bio-signature, the evidence is almost certain to be challenged – as claims about traces of ancient life here on earth usually are

Bringing back stones for further, more nuanced analysis is therefore probably the only way to clarify arguments about past biology on the Red Planet

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How this Mars landing will be different than before VideoHow this Mars landing will be different than before

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Endurance landing

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Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56103231