What’s next for NASA’s Perseverance rover?

Fletcher Smith, Reporter

As a part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, the Perseverance rover finished its six month long trip to Mars when it soft landed in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, but the rover’s adventure is only just beginning.

The biggest objective for Perseverance is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars. Its landing site, Jezero Crater, is believed to have been filled with water over 3.5 billion years ago, as there appear to be two ancient channels that supplied the crater with water, with a delta-like deposit in each channel being seen in satellite images of the crater. There has also been evidence of clay, which only forms in the presence of water, in the crater, meaning that it is very likely water once existed in the crater.

The lake in Jezero Crater is also thought to have been a long-lived lake (as the deltas likely took between 1 and 10 million years to form), which means that there is a possibility that life could have developed in that lake. Even if that life was microscopic, it would still be a tremendous discovery, as it would be the first time evidence of life was found somewhere other than Earth, and it would offer great insight into how life can develop in our galaxy and the universe.

Perseverance will drill into the Martian rocks and surface of the crater, storing its samples in tubes on the surface. The hope is for these samples to be returned to Earth via another mission by 2031, where they can be intensively studied. 

Perseverance will also test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere, which will help prepare humanity for a future manned mission to Mars. Tests like these of the natural resources of Mars will help in the planning of future space missions, both manned and unmanned, as humanity continues to study Mars and its potential habitability. These tests and discoveries will ultimately be used to create a permanent settlement on Mars.

Perseverance is also carrying a small drone helicopter, named Ingenuity, that, if successful, will be the first powered flight on a planet other than Earth. Ingenuity is currently attached to the bottom of the Perseverance rover, and will be deployed about 60 days after Perseverance landed on Mars, or around mid-April. Ingenuity will be used to test how powered flight could work on Mars, and can lead to longer, more powerful flights above the Martian surface.

The Mars 2020 mission is a huge step towards getting humans to Mars and helping them survive on the barren planet, and the potential scientific discoveries the mission could achieve will change how we view our solar system and our universe altogether.