After years of preparation and more than six months of space travel, Perseverance finally landed on Mars. The idea is to first find fossil evidence of life and later bring it home to Earth.
But the air seemed to stand still in the operations department of the American space agency NASA in the “last seven minutes of terror”, when the probe traveled into the atmosphere of Mars.
But just before 22.00 Swedish time cheers broke out. And a few minutes later, the first images came in of one of the most intricate sins that Nasa had designed in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Probes cross braked
The probe was then delayed from about 20,000 kilometers per hour to basically running speed in the crucial minutes in the atmosphere of March.
“Landing confirmed,” said Mars leader Swati Mohan.
Then they had managed to land the landscape – but in fact the probe had landed 11 minutes and 22 seconds earlier. This is how long it takes for the radio signals to reach the earth.
– We are very happy to start, says Sandra Siljeström, astrobiologist at Swedish Rise, and one of Perseverance’s international research teams.
As early as Friday, an accompanying helicopter will be launched, says Mimi Aung, who is head of the program. The helicopter, named Ingenuity, will make five trips over the next 30 days.
– The opportunity to fly makes it possible to reach places such as stone walls and other areas of scientific interest, says Aung.
And maybe it can “deliver color images like extra luxury”.
North of the equator
NASA’s new method of landing in March was to have a sort of flying crane, “skycrane”, to carry the probe to the surface. The crane is for single use only, and crashes after the maneuver. But the method is not entirely new, it was used successfully when the probe Curiosity arrived in March 2012.
The landing, at 22 hours Swedish time, was crucial to the success of the Perseverance project. But the successful landing is now the beginning of several years of exploring a new part of the geology and opportunities for life of our neighboring planet. Jezero has a diameter of about 50 kilometers, and is located just north of the Martian equator.
The interesting thing about the crater is that it was full of water a long time ago. Perseverance must be restored to the remnants of the delta that was formed when water flowed into the crater billions of years ago. If there was life on the planet, it would have to flourish in such a place.
– We are not talking about dinosaurs, says Sandra Siljeström about safety.
– Without what you might have thought maybe four billion years ago existed on Mars, very simple microbial life.
A half kilo
Probes have already landed on Mars before, a total of about a dozen. But among the unique elements this time is that Perseverance collects monsters for transport to Earth. Until now, human projects have only gone to Mars, and never take anything from the planet home.
The plan is that in March – equivalent to about two Earth years – that the small car will work to get samples in small tubes together. The weight of the minerals in total can amount to about half a kilo, so it is important to choose carefully.
The examples can also be studied on site by the instruments of Perseverance, but full clarity on how the work was successful will only be when the pipes have flown back to Earth. And it may take a few years, the forecast is around 2030.
– It is so with space projects that it tends to be very long lead times, says Sandra Siljeström.
– So it’s not certain that I do those analyzes. But the goal is to be involved.
Henrik Samuelsson / TT
Grim Berglund / TT
Mars is, from the sun, the fourth planet of our solar system. In size it is the second smallest, only Mercury is smaller. However, Mars holds by far the highest mountain in the solar system – at 27,000 meters is the volcano Olympus Mons where three Mount Everest stack on top of each other.
A March is 687 Earth days, which is almost as long as two years on Earth. The day on Mars is called the sun, pronounced “sieve”, and is a little longer than our Earth day.
The planet is uninhabitable; the average temperature is minus 62 degrees Celsius, and the atmosphere contains 95 percent carbon dioxide but less than 1 percent oxygen.
Earlier over the billions, however, conditions were a bit friendlier, so scientists still believe that some form of primitive life on the planet could emerge. It may still be there today, but in that case it will probably be hidden beneath the surface.