The last few years have been a huge attainment when it comes to the quest on Mars. However, the following ones may be even more successful with feats such as finding life on the Red Planet.
Researchers managed to find a lot of information about the background and development of Mars in the last decade. NASA‘s Curiosity rover expedition was the main source of data, determining that at least a handful of areas of the planet were able to sustain life as we know it on Earth for long periods in the ancient past.
“It’s been a very successful and very enlightening mission, in terms of figuring out that Mars was a habitable planet,” Curiosity mission scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. “And now we can go [to] the next step of the program and figure out if life ever took hold.”
The following step begins in July of this year when NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and the European-Russian probe Rosalind Franklin, will launch and attempt to land on the planet, with the aim of finding life signatures.
However, the hunt for alien life is not the only quest scheduled for the 2020s. If the development of SpaceX’s Starship Mars-colonizing craft goes well, it is possible that humans could land on the Red Planet during this decade as well.
A New Stage
NASA has previously hunted for life on Mars before, with numerous missions, including Curiosity, InSight, Mars Odyssey, MRO, MAVEN, MOM, Mars Express, and TGO still active to this day.
The work performed by these spacecraft and their predecessors have made way for Mars 2020 and Rosalind Franklin.
“I think the evidence is compelling that Mars has met, in the past, all the requirements for either the occurrence of life or an origin of life, depending on how you think something might have played out,” MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, said at the AGU meeting.
Two Rovers Hunting for Life on Mars
The ExoMars rover is scheduled to land on the dry planet on March 2021, probably in Oxia Planum, a plain on Mars’ northern hemisphere that seems to have a lot to give when it comes to ancient water activity.
The Rosalind Franklin will utilize its cameras and technological instruments to search for morphological and chemical signatures of ancient life on the planet. The craft will also dig the ground for these clues.
Mars 2020 rover is set to do a similar job in the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, collecting a series of other kinds of data, and test new exploration technology, such as a small mars helicopter.
“We are very much hoping that, with our payload, we can make a very strong case that there are biosignatures on the surface of Mars,” Mars 2020 deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan of JPL said at the AGU.
There is an important aspect of the 2020 rover expedition. If the probe confirms the existence of ancient life on Mars, it will be a difficult business, Jim Bell of Arizona State University, principal investigator of Mars 2020’s Mastcam-Z instrument said.
“We could make a claim about a biosignature, but it’s not clear anyone would believe us. So, let’s bring the samples back.”
Returning the Mars samples on Earth will be a collaborative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).