Kathryn Stack is an associate scientist for the Mars 2020 mission and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). An expert in the study of Martian sediments and their changes over time, she has followed in the footsteps of the Curiosity rover and will now do the same with Perseverance. Expect great results. Perseverance of other rovers sent to Mars? It has a payload that makes it suitable for searching for signs of ancient life on Mars.” In particular, the instruments on his arm, PIXL, and SHERLOC are capable of producing maps of the texture, composition, and distribution of organic molecules. For the first time, we will be able to recognize ancient biosignatures in the rocks of Mars. Plus you’ll be able to store samples, it has stronger wheels and an updated computer processor that allows you to navigate more efficiently.
“Why was the Jezero Crater chosen as a landing site? Jezero once housed an ancient lake with high potential for preserving life, if it ever existed on Mars. It is a unique place because it has one of the best-preserved deltas on the planet. It contains very interesting carbonate and clay minerals from an astrobiological point of view. Once there, how will the rover look for signs of life? First, you will take images and composition data to determine the geological context and possible habitability of the rocks. These observations will be used to select more specific targets. We will then look for patterns, textures, and substances in the rocks whose origin may have involved ancient Martian life. Do you think it will be successful?
“I believe the mission will make scientific discoveries that will significantly advance our understanding of the planet’s habitability, its potential to host ancient life and its evolution from a habitable to an uninhabitable world. If signs of life are found, what will be the next step?” Without a doubt, Perseverance will take samples so they can be returned to Earth for the following missions (Mars Sample Return).” That is the most exciting thing. Those samples could open the door to the next phase of Mars exploration and revolutionize our understanding of life in the Solar System and the Universe. And if you don’t find biosignatures, should we throw in the towel?
-Do not. Although Perseverance is suitable for looking at possible signs of ancient life on Mars, likely, we cannot definitively determine whether life was present or absent in the rocks of the Jezero crater until samples are returned to Earth. Experience on our planet has shown that sometimes a full arsenal of analytical techniques is needed to answer that question. And if there were no signs of ancient life in the returned samples, this result would also be incredibly interesting, as it would highlight how truly rare the development of life beyond Earth may have been. Will Mars 2020 open the way for human space exploration?
“Yes, several instruments in your payload contribute to this.” MEDA, with monitors characterizing the atmosphere, will help advance our understanding of the environmental conditions that future astronauts will face on the red planet. For its part, MOXIE is a demonstration of technology that takes CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and converts it into oxygen. That capacity could be expanded in the future to produce the oxygen that future human explorers on Mars need to survive and fuel for the rockets that return them to Earth.