Context: NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the U.S. space agency said. The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Nasa Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021.
- Mars 2020 mission by NASA to explore red planet.
- Goal 1: Determine whether life ever existed on Mars, seeking preserved signs of biosignatures in rock samples that formed in ancient Martian environments with conditions that might have been favorable to microbial life.
- Goal 2: Characterize the Climate of Mars
- Goal 3: Characterize the Geology of Mars. The rover seeks evidence of rocks that formed in water and that preserve evidence of organics, the chemical building blocks of life.
- Goal 4: Prepare for Human Exploration-monitoring environmental conditions so mission planners understand better how to protect future human explorers.
What is NASA Perseverance Rover Mission?
- It is a fourth-generation rover to land on Mars surface, containing advanced equipment.
- First, Perseverance will carry a unique instrument, MOXIE or Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: which for the first time will manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.
- ISRU: In situ resource utilization – use of local resources (on mars) to meet human needs or requirements of the spacecraft.
- If oxygen can be successfully extracted on Mars in some significant scale, this can have two direct advantages:
- first, the oxygen can be used for human visitors to Mars, and
- second, the oxygen can be used to manufacture rocket fuel for the return journey.
- Second, it will carry- Ingenuity, the first ever helicopter to fly on Mars. This is the first time NASA will fly a helicopter on another planet or satellite.
- Ingenuity is a technology demonstration: the challenge, of course, is to fly the helicopter in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
- Like a drone on Earth, a Mars helicopter can help in rover drive planning and in fetching samples from locations that the rover cannot safely drive to.
- Third, Perseverance is the planned first step to bring back rock samples from Mars for analysis in sophisticated laboratories on Earth: with the goal of looking for biosignatures: or signatures of present or past life.
- Perseverance will collect samples and a second rover mission will fly within a decade to help transport the rock samples back to Earth.
What is the reason for the near-term interest in Mars?
- Mars is a fascinating planet for humankind. Mars had flowing water and an atmosphere in the distant past: and perhaps conditions to support life.
- Increase in interest related to Mars is because of Elon Musk’s plans for commercial travel on his Starship Spaceship.