Both NASA and ESA Getting Ready for Mars Missions to Search for Life.

“I’ve been worried about that question — are we alone in this universe? — because I think we’re close to finding it (other life) and making some announcements. … I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not.”

— Jim Green, Ph.D., Physicist and NASA Chief Scientist since May 1, 2018

 

This NASA image is a composite photo created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s. The huge "scar" is Valles Marineris, the largest canyon on Mars and at 4000 km long, 200 km wide and 10 km deep, it is the largest canyon known in the entire Solar System.
This NASA image is a composite photo created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s. The huge “scar” is Valles Marineris, the largest canyon on Mars and at 2,485 miles long (4000 km), 124 miles wide (200 km) and 6 miles deep (10 km), it is the largest canyon known in the entire Solar System. For comparison, the Grand Canyon in the U. S. is 277 miles long (446 km), about 18 miles wide (29km) and 6,093 feet deep (1,857 meters).

 

October 2, 2019 Albuquerque, New Mexico – Ten  months from now in the last half of July 2020, two different rovers from America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) will travel to Mars to look for evidence of life. They both go in the same time window of July 17 to August 5, 2020, because that’s when the alignment of planets will allow a more straight shot to the red planet for the fastest trip. It will take about 7 months to travel the approximate 140 million miles (225 million km) from Earth to Mars with an expected landing date of February 18, 2021.

 

NASA Landing:  February 18, 2021, in Martian Jezero Crater

Jezero crater lies within the yellow circle near the center of this image (the crater itself is not visible in this global view, which was taken by Mars Orbiter Mission on 7 October 2014).
Jezero crater lies within the yellow circle inside the rectangle near the center of this image taken by a Mars Orbiter Mission on October 7, 2014. Click image to enlarge.
NASA's Mars 2020 will land in Jezero Crater, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
NASA’s Mars 2020 will land in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water and where there was water, they could have been life. This Jezero Crater delta sediments contain clays and carbonates. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Click image to enlarge.

Jezero — is named after a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina pronounced something like “YEH-zuh-doh.” It’s a 28-mile-wide (45 km) crater that once held a lake. Jezero contains a preserved river delta and the NASA 2020 rover’s primary mission is to look for life evidence there. Jezero will explore the ancient crater lake basin and river-delta for water and chemistry history in a search for life past or present.

JEZERO CRATER REGIONAL TOPOGRAPHY Isidis basin, about 1500 kilometers in diameter, was the last of Mars' large impact basins to form. The landing site of Mars 2020 will be in Jezero crater, on the northwest edge of the basin. Nili Fossae is a region of fractured terrain. Geologists think that the fractures in Nili Fossae formed as a result of the Isidis impact. Syrtis Major, to the southwest, is a volcanic region. This map shows topography derived from the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA). Image by NASA / MIT / Goudge et al 2017.
Jezero Crater regional topography:  Isidis basin, about 932 miles (1500 km) in diameter, was the last of Mars’ large impact basins to form. The landing site of Mars 2020 will be February 18, 2021, in Jezero crater, on the northwest edge of the basin. Nili Fossae is a region of fractured terrain. Geologists think that the fractures in Nili Fossae formed as a result of the Isidis impact. Syrtis Major, to the southwest, is a volcanic region. This map shows topography derived from the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA). Image by NASA / MIT / Goudge et al 2017. Click image to enlarge.

At present, there is a wide variety of minerals exposed within Jezero Crater and just outside it. There are many kinds of carbonates and clay minerals, which typically form in wet environments, in addition to the lava-related minerals that are more common on Mars. Some of those minerals formed from groundwater action; some of them formed when the delta deposits became rock; and some mineral grains might be unchanged from when they were first eroded from the rocks way outside of Jezero, a long time ago. Disentangling which minerals formed where, and what that tells us about the history of the geology and climate at the site, is work for geologists.

NASA 2020 Rover

The Mars 2020 mission landing system includes a parachute, descent vehicle, and an approach called a "skycrane maneuver" for lowering the rover on a tether to the surface during the final seconds prior to landing. This type of landing system provides the ability to land a very large, heavy rover on the surface of Mars in a more precise landing area than was possible before Curiosity's landing.
The Mars 2020 mission landing system on February 18, 2021, will include a parachute, descent vehicle, and an approach called a “skycrane maneuver” for lowering the 2020 rover on a tether to the surface during the final seconds prior to landing. This type of landing system provides the ability to land a very large, heavy rover on the surface of Mars in a more precise landing area than was possible before the Curiosity rover’s landing. Illustration by NASA. Click image to enlarge.
The Mars 2020 rover is based on the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover configuration. It is car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall). But at 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilograms), it weighs less than a compact car. In some sense, the rover parts are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it "alive" and able to explore. Illustration by NASA.
The Mars 2020 rover is based on the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover configuration. It is car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall). But at 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilograms), it weighs less than a compact car. In some sense, the rover parts are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it “alive” and able to explore. Illustration by NASA. Click image to enlarge.
Click on 2020 rover image to enlarge.
Click on 2020 rover image to enlarge.

The Mars 2020 NASA rover’s long-range mobility system allows it to travel on the surface of Mars over a distance of 3 to 12 miles (5 to 20 kms). The rover has a new, more capable wheel design, and for the first time, the rover carries a drill for at least 6-feet-deep coring samples from Martian rocks and soil. It gathers and stores the cores in tubes on the Martian surface, using a strategy called “depot caching.” Eventually preserving samples by caching them could help future missions collect samples and return them to Earth for more intensive laboratory analysis.

NASA will communicate with the Mars 2020 rover from its NASA Jet Propulsion Mission Control at JPL in Pasadena, California.

 

ESA 2020 Rover

The ExoMars Rover, developed by ESA, provides key mission capabilities: surface mobility, subsurface drilling and automatic sample collection, processing, and distribution to instruments. It hosts a suite of analytical instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research: this is the Pasteur payload.
The ExoMars Rover, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), provides surface mobility, subsurface drilling and automatic sample collection, processing, and distribution to instruments. It has analytical instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry to search for evidence of life on Mars.

After landing, the ESA ExoMars rover will investigate the physical and chemical properties of Martian samples, mainly from the subsurface below ground. Underground samples are more likely to include biomarkers associated with living organisms, since the thin Martian atmosphere offers little protection from radiation and photochemistry at the surface that could kill microbes, at least those we know on Earth.

The ESA ExoMars rover drill is designed to extract samples from various depths, down to a maximum of 2 meters (7 feet). It includes an infrared spectrometer to characterise the mineralogy in the borehole. Once collected, a sample will be delivered to the ExoMars rover’s analytical laboratory, which will perform mineralogical and chemistry determination investigations to look for organic substances. During its search-for-life-evidence missioin, the ESA ExoMars rover is expected to travel several miles.

ESA will communicate with the ExoMars rover from its Rover Operations Control Centre (ROCC) in Turin, Italy. The ROCC commands to the rover will be transmitted through the Mars Orbiter and ESA space communications network operated at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

 

Searching for Life On Mars

Both agencies would like to answer the question: Are we alone in this universe? NASA’s Chief Scientist Jim Green recently told The Telegraph in London:  “I’ve been worried about that question — are we alone in this universe? — because I think we’re close to finding it (other life) and making some announcements. … I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not.”

Dr. Jim Green, Ph.D., Physicist and Chief Scientist at NASA. Image by NASA.
Dr. Jim Green, Ph.D., Physicist and Chief Scientist at NASA. Image by NASA.

Physicist Green compares this time in history when humans are leaving Earth to explore the moon, Mars and beyond to the 1500s when the Earth paradigm was that Earth was the center of the universe. Then came along Nicolaus Copericus, an astronomer from Poland. By 1532, he had written De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). His revolutionary concept was that the Earth orbited around the sun — the sun did not orbit around Earth.

Andreas Cellarius’s illustration of the Copernican system, from the Harmonia Macrocosmica (1708), in public domain.
Andreas Cellarius’s illustration of the Copernican system in which the Earth orbits around the sun —  a major revolutionary concept in the 1500s because it was the opposite of the world and church paradigm that Earth was the center of the universe and the sun orbited around the planet. From the Harmonia Macrocosmica (1708), in public domain.

Copernicus was afraid to publish his work because he expected the church would condemn him for heresy. So, he withheld his research until a year before he died. Towards the end of 1542, Copernicus suffered from a brain hemorrhage or stroke which left him paralyzed. It was only as he declined toward death that year of 1542 that Copernicus sent his mathematical treatise to Nuremberg, Germany, to be published. Then on the day of his death, May 24, 1543, at the age of 70, he was given an advanced copy of his book. It is said he smiled and then died.

 

Another Revolution Upon Us — Active Search Now for Other Life Beyond Earth

That 1500s revolution seems quaint today when we have giant computers that “show” us with digital models how our whole solar system orbits around our sun. And the Hubble telescope estimates there are at least  100 billion galaxies.  Yet, ironically, as we are reaching the middle of the 21st Century, humans still debate whether there is other intelligent life “out there” in this universe.

GalaxySpiralMessier101is170000L-Y across. 2006 image by Hubble Space Telescope.
Galaxy Spiral Messier, largest and most detailed spiral galaxy ever released by Hubble. The giant spiral pinwheel of stars, dust and gas is 170,000 light-years across — twice the size of our Milky Way galaxy and is estimated to have one trillion stars. Click image to enlarge.

 

Also see:

06-25-2019 – A Mysterious White Spot in Martian Sky and Surprising Methane Spike On the Red Planet.


More Information:

11-26-2018 – Today Nov. 26th – NASA Joy and Cheers As InSIGHT Lands On Mars! See updated report.
11-01-2018 – Mars: Why It’s A Strange Cloud and Not Volcano Smoke.
08-08-2018 – Elon Musk’s SpaceX Holding Secret Mars Workshop Today
07-25-2018 – Underground Lake Reported Beneath Martian South Pole.
06-19-2018 – Update: “We’re Going to Have A Space Force … And Very Soon We’re Going to Mars” – President Trump.
06-13-2018 – One of Largest Storms Ever Seen On Mars Threatens the Opportunity Rover.
06-07-2018 – NASA Confirms Organic Molecules On Mars — Will Life Evidence Be Next?


Websites:

Mars Jezero Crater for NASA’s Mars 2020 landing on Feb. 21, 2010:
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jezero-crater-mars-2020s-landing-site

Mars 2020 Rover Instruments by NASA: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/instruments/

2020 ExoMars Rover by ESA:
https://exploration.esa.int/web/mars/-/45084-exomars-rover

“We’re Going to Jezero!” November 20, 2018, The Planetary Society:
http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2018/jezero-landing-site-mars-2020-rover.html


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