NASA Perseverance Mars rover kicks off search for past life – CNET

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Perseverance and Ingenuity take a selfie.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

It’s happening. NASA’s Perseverance rover has begun its main science mission: searching for signs of ancient microbial life in the Jezero Crater on Mars. 

“Until recently, the rover has been undergoing systems tests, or commissioning, and supporting the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s month of flight tests,” NASA said in a statement Wednesday.

The Ingenuity helicopter is doing fine on its own and just completed a seventh flight. Perseverance has already been through an extensive warm-up phase where it tested out many of its science instruments, snapped thousands of images and recorded audio on Mars.

“We are putting the rover’s commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hitting the road,” said NASA JPL Perseverance project manager Jennifer Trosper

This annotated map shows the landing site, with the yellow hash marks laying out proposed routes for the Perseverance rover’s travels.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The rover has its eyes on a chunk of the crater floor where it will look for worthy rock and soil samples to pack into tubes and cache for retrieval by a later mission. It will need to navigate the rocky ground and to work around potentially hazardous sand dunes. The crater floor was a lakebed billions of years ago. 

This first science campaign will wrap up with the rover returning to its landing site. “At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and up to eight of Perseverance’s 43 sample tubes could be filled with Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust),” NASA said.

The data that Perseverance collects should begin to tell the story of this fascinating region of Mars, giving us a glimpse into its early, wetter history and geologic composition. Could it have been habitable for life at one point? NASA hopes to find out.

To celebrate the occasion, NASA also unveiled a 360-degree panorama of a spot called Van Zyl Overlook. It’s the place where Perseverance watched over the Ingenuity helicopter’s first flights.

The interactive panorama is made from 992 individual images taken in March and April with an audio soundtrack captured by the rover in February. Immersing yourself in the Martian view is the perfect way to get pumped for Perseverance’s science adventures.   

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