NASA’s Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

BEIJING, March 19 (Xinhua) — For human travelers, the iconic moment of space exploration took place half a century ago, when Neil Armstrong left his first human footprint on the moon. But if you don’t mind humans being replaced by robots, the greatest era of space exploration is on Mars at this point.

NASA's Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

Wherever the rover goes, there will be unexpected discoveries.

NASA’s Curiosity rover travels on the dusty, rusty martian surface, leaving behind a rut that has been “J-P-L” in a Moss code. This is the acronym for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was at this research center that NASA scientists and engineers designed and built Curiosity and three previous Mars rovers. To date, all of these rovers have completed a 75-kilometer journey, greatly expanding our understanding of the Martian environment and providing the impetus for the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe.

NASA's Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

Images sent back by the Mars Pathfinder lander are stitched together to create a strange panorama

Wherever the rover goes, there will be unexpected discoveries. They observed traces of dried-up rivers, lakes and catastrophic levels of water, indicating that Mars had high volcanic activity and abundant liquid water 3.5 billion years ago. They also found inexplicable atmospheric changes, suggesting that some unknown chemical processes are still going on to this day. Evidence from the rover suggests that if you dig down the seemingly barren surface of Mars, you may find a vibrant – and even still life – planet.

So far, most Mars missions have been landers, targeting a specific location. Most missions, including every attempt by the Soviet Union, failed. However, all five NASA rovers have successfully landed and operated, although only Curiosity and Insight are still on mission. In the summer of 2020, we may witness the launch of three different Mars rovers, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin, one of the discoverers of the DNA double helix structure, and China’s.” Mars One rover.

Travellers (4 July – 27 September 1997)

NASA’s Sojourner is a small, cute Mars rover that helped the agency make a splash on the Internet for the first time. The six-wheeled rover weighs just 10.6 kilograms and has solar panels on its roof. After landing, the Voyager’s mother ship, the Mars Pathfinder lander, deployed a small weather station to scan its surroundings with stereo cameras and examine the composition of rocks and soil. On July 7th, The Traveler’s page was viewed 80 million times, a huge success when the internet was just starting out.

Voyager created a template for the later robotic Mars exploration. The expedition map of The Traveler is marked with a date indicating the number of days on Mars after landing. Images sent back by the Mars Pathfinder lander are stitched together to create a strange panorama. Each day on Mars is 24 hours and 37 minutes, which requires NASA’s ground rover to adapt to different day and night cycles on Mars. The duration of the mission was also much longer than expected: 83 days, rather than the planned seven days. Like all rovers, the Voyager was sent to a place where it once had abundant water. Life on Earth needs water to survive, and the current assumption is that if there were any life on Mars, it would be the same way. After the Voyager landed, NASA scientists came up with a motto, “Go with the water” to guide their mars survey.

Looking around the lander’s landing site, you may not see that it was once a vast flood plain, between two huge drains, the Ares Valley and the Tyre Valley. Before the Voyager arrived, planetary scientists suspected that the waterway was caused by a catastrophic flood billions of years ago. During a short trip around the land site, the Voyager discovered circular rocks, suggesting that the area had been flowing for a long time, perhaps part of a series of passages linking ancient and inland oceans. That’s good news for the search for life on Mars.

Courage (4 January 2004 – 22 March 2010)

Let’s continue our journey on Mars. Courage, along with its twin brother Opportunity, marks a major upgrade in NASA’s robotic Mars exploration technology. Courage carries a nuclear-powered heater to maintain temperature, which allows all the electricity it will receive from solar panels to be delivered to scientific instruments and to carry out long-distance activities. According to the original involvement, the Courage mission will last 90 days, the journey of at least 600 meters. The Courage rover had been running for 7.7 kilometers before it was trapped in the sand on May 1, 2009, and then it had been in place for another year.

NASA's Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

The Courage rover had been running for 7.7 km before it was trapped in the sand on May 1, 2009, and then it had been in place for another year.

Courage’s exploration journey began with a crater called Gusev. The heat from the asteroid’s impact on Mars melts the underground ice, which could cause flooding. The crater covered so wide that the team had to keep naming different landscapes to maintain a sense of direction. Many of these names, including Mount Columbia, commemorate the 2003 crash of the space shuttle Challenger; some are less formal, such as a rock formation that reveals its surface, known as the Home Plate, because it is very similar to the baseball field’s home plate.

During that long exploration, Courage recorded more evidence of ancient water. So much evidence is there for science journalists to make a long-held joke: EVERY NASA PRESS CONFERENCE ANNOUNCES THAT WATER HAS BEEN “DISCOVERED” ON MARS. The rocks of Columbia Mountain are apparently altered by water flows, while the “base plate” is mainly volcanic rock. The exact location where Courage was trapped – known as Gertrude Weise, named after a player in the National League of Women’s Major League Baseball – was covered with silicon deposits, possibly in the presence of hot springs. In other words, Courage is trapped in direct evidence that Mars was once warm and humid.

Opportunity (25 January 2004 – 10 June 2018)

Three weeks after Courage landed, its “twin brother” Opportunity landed on the other side of Mars and set a long-distance driving record in the new world that has not been broken. In more than 14 years (60 times its design life), Opportunity traveled 45.16 kilometers. By contrast, the longest lunar journey, piloted by The Apollo 17 astronauts, was a much larger lunar rover with a journey of 35.7 kilometers.

NASA's Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

  Three weeks after The Courage landed, its “twin brother” Opportunity landed on the other side of Mars and set a long-distance driving record in this new world that has not been broken.

Opportunity’s landing site is the Eagle Impact Crater, located on a vast plain known as the Meridian Plateau. The rover quickly added more details, giving us a deeper understanding of the long-lost water on Mars. Opportunity, for example, found small blue globular rocks called “blueberries” that had to be formed where water was found. Like Courage, Opportunity is equipped with drilling tools and microcameras for detailed analysis of rocks. Combined with other data from chemical sensors, the discovery strongly confirms that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and a rich surface of water. Steve Squires, of Cornell University, said at the time: “We think Opportunity is on the shores of an aral sea on Mars. “

Opportunity’s epic journey also included a tour of the Victoria impact crater and a short trip to the perimeter of the massive lying crater, culminating in a global Martian dust storm that blocked its solar panels from sunlight. Opportunity also passed several meteorites on Mars, including a large piece of metal called Heat Shield Rock, showing how Mars was hit by an asteroid.

Curiosity (August 6, 2012-present)

NASA’s best mars rover to date is built on the lessons of the past. Curiosity looks a bit clunky, but it’s more powerful than the elegant Traveler. Curiosity weighs 900 kilograms and is equipped with a nuclear power generator for power generation, as well as 17 cameras, including a geological camera and a chemical camera called ChemCam. It can even emit laser beams to vaporize rocks and detect their composition. In addition, it is equipped with six special patterned tires, each 50.8 cm wide, which is used to leave JPL’s Moss code on the sand.

With a flood of images, Curiosity has traveled 21.6 kilometers. As you can see from the map, the mission scientists have gone a little crazy, they have named each rock and every place Curiosity passes. Curiosity’s landing site in the Gale impact crater was also based on data collected by earlier missions. The Gale crater, 3.5 billion years old and 150 kilometers in diameter, was later filled with wet sediment and dust, which was then eroded. This unusual geological environment allowed Curiosity to study different periods in Mars’ history as it orbited the crater.

NASA's Mars rover: Search for traces of water and life on the Red Planet

  As you can see from the map, the mission scientists have gone a little crazy, they have named each rock, they have named every place Curiosity passes.

Curiosity is an excellent extraterrestrial geologist who has visited the strange Martian dunes, recorded strange rock formations and mineral salts, and demonstrated that the area near its landing site was once the estuary of a river or lake that would intermittently flood and dry up. “The conditions here were once fit for life, ” concluded John Grotzinger, curiosity’s project scientist. Curiosity also found inexplicable changes in oxygen and methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could be a sign of biological activity. But in the search for real life or its remains, Curiosity’s further discovery makes things uncertain.

Fortunately, NASA’s next Mars rover, tentatively known as Mars 2020, is about to go into operation. It will be equipped with tools specifically designed to look for organic matter, such as biologically relevant carbon-based compounds. Finding organic matter alone is not enough to prove that Mars was or is alive, so there is another way for the Mars 2020 rover. It will put the most promising samples in storage tubes, store them, and bring them back to Earth from future missions to Mars. Using these samples, scientists may be able to find microfossils, or conduct more sensitive chemical studies, and eventually reveal whether there is life on Mars. (Any day)