Few worlds have garnered as much attention as Mars. And though astronomers have mapped the planet’s surface from afar for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the last half-century that we sent robotic scouts to physically explore and capture close-up views of the rusty world.
In recent decades, scientists have seen dust devils meandering along Mars’ barren surface. They’ve uncovered reservoirs of water ice trapped at its poles and buried just below the ground. And they’ve found evidence that liquid water once existed on the now-arid planet, likely forming lakes and other bodies of water well suited for preserving ancient life — that is, if life ever existed there.
Now, it seems that every time scientists make a new discovery about Mars, the conversation shifts to: “When are we going to go there and see for ourselves?” With this upcoming Mars mission, scientists are finally taking the first steps toward humanity exploring the Red Planet in person.
There’s plenty of overlap between this mission’s goals and those of previous rovers, but Perseverance still has a unique agenda. Namely, the rover will seek signs of past life by searching for previously habitable sites; search those sites for evidence of ancient microbes by studying rocks known to preserve life; collect and store rock cores for a future sample return mission; and help scientists prepare for the hurdles human explorers will face on Mars, partly by testing a method for pulling oxygen out of thin air.
Join Abigail Bollenbach in the latest episode Infinity and Beyond, where she’ll walk you through the ambitious Perseverance rover, which successfully blasted off for the Red Planet the morning of July 30, 2020.