This year, NASA will send to the Red Planet the largest rover in the history of its exploration. As part of the Mars 2020 mission, the agency will focus primarily on seeking traces of life and collecting samples for research on Earth.
The rover named Perseverance will be a kind of laboratory on wheels. It is designed and built in such a way that it is able to collect up to 37 samples. However, his primary mission will be to collect 20 fragments of soil during 1.5 Martian years. The samples will be packed into containers and await them in the next mission, whose task will be to bring them to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return mission.
Poles and Germans are involved in the project of its preparation. Their role is to build a special robotic arm with which the lander will be equipped. Thanks to it, previously collected samples of Martian soil will be transferred and placed in an airtight container. It is in it that they will eventually reach Earth. It should be emphasized here that this will be the first mission in human history in which soil samples from an alien planet will be delivered to Earth.
The device will land in a very geologically interesting area of this planet for astrobiologists, where once there could have been rivers and lakes of liquid water, and biological life flourished in them. It will be the delta region of the Jezero crater, which is located on the edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant trough north of the planet's equator. Scientists chose this area because of the oldest and most interesting geological forms of the Red Planet found there. There, clay minerals were detected by Martian orbiters. It suggests the presence of an aquatic environment, and the thickness of the sediments can be up to one kilometer there.
"The Jezero crater offers us a place rich in geology, with terrain forms from up to 3.6 billion years ago, which can answer important questions about the evolution of planets and astrobiology. Obtaining samples from this unique region could revolutionize our knowledge of Mars and its ability to sustain life there" said Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA Science Mission Directorate.
Billions of years ago, when Mars was not a barren desert, and its climatic conditions could resemble earthly, the delta of an ancient river could bear and store microorganisms there. If we really want to finally discover them, this will be the best place to do so. The task of the Perseverance rover will be to take samples of aluminum and carbonates from the ground and examine them, and then a mission to deliver them to Earth for more detailed analysis is planned.
Engineers at the Mars Program Formulation Office at JPL have developed a design for a special Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) device that would receive samples taken by the rover, and then it would carry them into orbit, from where they would be picked up by a solar-powered orbiter. From there, the samples would either go directly to Earth or near the Moon, where they would be picked up by an Orion vehicle. However, the biggest problem will be their safe delivery to Earth's laboratories so that they do not contaminate the biosphere.
Since the Red Planet is in class V of the planetary protection rules, there is a huge threat associated with the fact that the samples contain extraterrestrial self-replicating organisms, so the samples must remain tightly closed until a successful sterilization procedure is developed. Scientists point out that they will soon have the right techniques and procedures that allow you to do it in a safe way, but everything does not depend on them, but on political will.
Choosing the right research stand for the Mars 2020 mission was not an easy process. Astrobiologists have been thinking about it for over 5 years, analyzing thousands of photos of the planet's surface, including based on images obtained by space probes orbiting Mars. The probe is scheduled to start in July 2020 and the landing in February 2021.