At the end of a seven-month trip, NASA’s Perseverance robot is due to land on Mars, Thursday, February 18, as part of the Mars 2020 mission, intended to search for traces of ancient life on the Red Planet. The most critical phase of the landing will last seven minutes, “Seven minutes of terror”, according to NASA.
The pre-programmed spacecraft was designed to strike the thin Martian atmosphere at 19,500 km / h, then use a parachute to slow it down and a rocket-driven platform, called a Celestial Crane, to lower the rover to the surface.
Launched in July by the Atlas 5 rocket, which took off from the base at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the next-generation six-wheeled rover is scheduled to land at 9:55 p.m. KST on Jezero Crater, an area where water would have been present about three billion years ago, and considered very dangerous. The images of the arrival of the robot on the Red Planet will be broadcast live at the Paris headquarters of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), where the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron is due to go.
Larger and more sophisticated than its predecessors, Perseverance, whose two-year mission is valued at 2.7 billion dollars (2.23 billion euros), is able to take rock samples that will be analyzed to distinguish between , perhaps, microscopic traces of ancient organisms. The tubes containing the samples will be preciously kept on Mars until a later mission is able to come back for them, in the 2030s. The rover is equipped with a weather station, 19 cameras and two microphones, equipment that will, according to NASA, obtain rich images. It is equipped with a “Supercam”, a Franco-American instrument developed in particular by CNES and CNRS.
“Are we alone? “
Scientists estimate that if life ever flourished on Mars, it would have happened three to four billion years ago, when water was still flowing over the Red Planet. They hope to answer one of the central questions of theology, philosophy and space exploration. “Are we alone in this sort of vast cosmic desert, just flying through space, or is life much more common?” Does it only emerge when and where conditions are ripe? “, asked Kenneth Williford, associate scientist of the project.
“Big, fundamental questions, and we don’t yet know the answers. So we’re really on the verge of potentially being able to answer these huge questions. “
The landing of the American robot would mark the third Martian mission in just over a week. Two spacecraft, from the United Arab Emirates and China, entered orbit around the Red Planet last week. All three missions took off in July, taking advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars. The Chinese spacecraft includes a smaller rover that will also search for evidence of life – if it can safely descend from orbit, in May or June.