This summer, space enthusiasts around the planet will be glued to their screens on July 20 as NASA aims to send the Perseverance rover to Mars on a mission that is expected to last one Martian year (687 Earth days). The project scientist, Professor Kenneth Farley, told Politico he keeps his fingers crossed that the rover will find something so big, such as evidence of alien life, that would compel funding a mission to return the samples back to Earth.
If all goes well, the rover will reach the Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021 and start collecting samples and look for fossil evidence in rocks that are over 3 billion years old, he said.
One of the most important experiments planned is the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE). If it is proved in principle that Martian carbon dioxide can be turned into oxygen, humans will be able to create it on Mars, paving the path to longer missions.Martian dust will also be examined to see if it is actually possible to launch a return rocket from the red planet, as it can get into the delicate parts of engines and might prove to be very unhealthy for humans.
The samples are to be left on Mars with a pick up mission planned in cooperation with the European Space Agency in 2026. The pick up mission will include a rocket and a rover that will exit the rocket, pick up the samples, and return to it for the flight back to Earth.He pointed out that there is no intention of bringing alien samples to Earth unless they are sealed hermetically. If all goes well the return will be to Utah.
Should there be any delay in the pick up mission, the samples could remain on Mars and be safe for decades until they can be collected, Farley told Politico. Another aspect of the mission is that everything sent must be sterile to avoid bringing Earth bacteria to Mars. Mars has held a deep interest for science fiction and futuristic writers keen on seeing humanity colonize space and leaving the Earth due to it being fairly close to us and seemingly mainly lacking in air and water, obstacles that might be overcome if the 2020 mission goes well.
US President Donald Trump made headlines around the world when he announced the creation of a US Space Force, which already became the topic of a Netflix fictional comedy series.
Yet the age-old dream to one day visit human cities on Mars might become a little closer this summer.