(Washington) NASA brilliantly landed its probe on Mars on Thursday perseveranceOnly the fifth car to make the unimpeded journey, but it is the first to publicize the goal of finding, in the coming years, evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.
“Confirm landing! Swati Mohan, in charge of process control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, screamed, and cries of joy quickly filled up from the teams in the control room.
NASA immediately released a photo that the probe took at the site. “Hello world. My first appearance of the house that will be mine forever,” tweeted the official account of the investigation to accompany the unusual black and white photo, in which we can see the shadow of the car projected to the ground.
The maneuver was extremely risky and the landing site, the Jezero crater, was the most dangerous attempt ever, owing to its relief.
After entering the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 km / h, friction with the air raised the temperature of the ship to 1,300 degrees Celsius. The probe was protected by a heat shield, which was launched only after opening a huge hypersonic parachute.
Eight retro rockets finished slowing them down before spreading their six wheels, suspended along cables until they hit the ground.
For the first time, the “March 2020” mission of the US Space Agency has a clear goal of finding traces of ancient life on the Red Planet, by collecting up to thirty rock samples over several years.
After that, the sealed tubes must be returned to Earth on a future mission, in the 1930s, in order to analyze them and may finally be able to answer “one of the questions that have haunted us for centuries, which is: Are we? Alone in the universe?” Said Thomas Zurbuchen, Director Assistant for Science at NASA.
perseverance It is the largest and most complex craft ever sent to Mars. It weighs a ton and is equipped with a robotic arm over two meters high.
Evidence that the mission is also the result of international cooperation: French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country designed one of the many scientific tools for the probe, attended the landing at the headquarters of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) in Paris.
An exceptional discovery
Researchers believe that the Jizero Crater was home to a deep lake about 50 km wide 3.5 billion years ago.
“We have very strong evidence that Mars could have housed life in the distant past,” Ken Willford, the deputy chief of the mission, told a news conference on Wednesday. The question is: Is (life on) Earth an anomaly, a stroke of luck? ”
The first samples should start this summer. Several methods of drilling have been planned in different environments, particularly the shore of the ancient lake, and the delta formed by a river flowing through it.
Scientists are looking for what they call biomarkers: traces of microbial life that “can take all kinds of forms,” for example “chemicals” or “environmental changes,” said Marie Voetke, director of the Astrobiology Program at NASA. “We astrobiologists have been dreaming about this mission for decades,” she said enthusiastically.
“Either we find life, and that will be an extraordinary discovery, or we do not discover it, […] This indicates that not all habitable environments are inhabited, “warned Ken Farley, project scientist. We have to look elsewhere.
He said that the 450 or so team members who will test this stage will also work in exceptional circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic: “The mission will be carried out from the people’s lounge, all over the world.”
A helicopter and an oxygen machine
But the first months of the mission will not be devoted to this first goal. Parallel experiments are planned.
NASA particularly wants to prove that it is possible to drive a motorized vehicle onto another planet. Baptized helicopter cleverness, It should be able to rise in air at a density equal to 1% of the density of Earth’s atmosphere.
Microfenin can also, for the first time, record the sound of Mars.
NASA will also test oxygen production directly at the site, using an instrument the size of a car battery that works much like a plant, by absorbing carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.
This oxygen could be used by future settlers to breathe, but also as fuel.
Since the first probe that reached Mars in 1997, they are all American and one of them, Curiosity ofStill active.
But China has launched an investigation recently Tianwen -1 It orbits around Mars, and contains an unmanned robot that is expected to attempt a landing in May.