NASA’s hunt for signs of ancient life on Mars has begun.
The six-wheeled rover Perseverance landed safely on the Red Planet in February 2021.
Now it's finally ready to start taking samples from the Jezero Crater.
Scientists are honing in on this area because they believe the meteor impact that formed the crater established an environment friendly to life.
NASA says the evidence suggests the crater contains clays which can only form in the presence of water.
Ken Farley is a scientist working on the project.
"One interesting thing about Mars is, we don't know whether there was ever a phase when there was an ocean. It is a matter of debate. But it is clear that the place we are looking at in Jezero crater was not part of a sea. It was a lake, and it was a lake that was about 40 kilometers across. So we are not looking for things that would have been growing in the sea. And the other important aspect of this is that we are looking very, very far back in the history of the solar system. And what that means is that life would not have had much of a chance to advance very far. And that's why we always say that we are looking for evidence of potential microbial life.’’ ‘
One of the questions scientists are hoping to answer is whether the soil in Jezero is sedimentary or volcanic.
"This shows a panorama that we took of these rocks of the crater floor. These rocks are important because we believe they are the lowest down rocks in the sequence of rocks that we have, and therefore they are very likely to be the oldest. And one of the hypotheses that we are trying to test is that the lake that once filled Jezero wasn't there just once, but that it went through multiple episodes of filling up, drawing down and filling up again."
The six-wheeled rover will take samples from the Red Planet’s surface for long-term storage.
A sophisticated system will put the samples into tubes using the rover's robotic arm, as project manager Jennifer Trosper explains.
"The purpose of our sample caching system is to acquire samples and then to transfer those through our bit carousel to the adaptive caching assembly, which is in the front of the rover. The front of the rover then has another sample handling arm which manages those tubes and the samples inside of them, to do imaging and measure the volume. And then we will seal those and store those for planned future return to Earth….’
NASA’s Perseverance sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293 million miles, to reach the Red Planet.
The $2.7 billion endeavor is the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world.
The United States and China are so far the only two nations that have successfully deployed land vehicles on Mars.
A remote-controlled Chinese motorized rover, called Zhurong, drove down to the Martian surface in May 2021.