Currently, NASA’s Perseverance plane is flying through space towards the February landing on Mars and no one is watching any closer than Dr. Caleb Fassett of Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Fassett wrote a scientific paper almost 20 years ago on Perseverance’s destination.
Fassett’s research has found evidence that the crater – since it was named Jezero Crater – was once a lake and has the ability to hold signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. NASA has staked the $ 3 billion mission cost that Fassett and his fellow scientists are right. And NASA has raised the rate. For the first time ever, an explorer will try to send samples from this planet back to Earth.
“This particular location on Mars is something I found in very low-resolution data in 2003, 2004,” Fassett said last week. “In that data, it̵7;s really clear that there are valleys in this crater.” What Fassett saw in the image from the spacecraft Mars Odyssey, still orbiting Mars, was a sign of sediment on one side of the crater and a “exit” on the other. “To have a form of drainage, you have to fill it all up (the crater) and let it overflow,” Fassett said. “Basically that requires the existence of a lake.”
“It was interesting when I found it initially,” said Fassett. “It’s been getting cooler since then.”
Fassett and colleagues also discovered carbonate in craters, a mineral that requires “relatively moderate conditions” to form. “A lot of carbonates on Earth, the reason they form, are living things,” Fassett said. “You can also make them precipitate inorganic without biology, and that is most likely the case with these Martians.”
Scientists have seen this before. “The carbonate was found in a rock sample from a Martian asteroid hitting the Earth,” Fassett said, “and that was one of the things that kicked off Mars’s energy renewal program in the 1980s, because all Who argues that it is biological ”.
Scientists don’t think now, he said, and Fassett believes that finding evidence of life on Mars next year is “unlikely.” The explorer is “very capable,” he said, “but we have trouble on Earth to identify signs of life in 3 ½ million years old rocks. You have to be very lucky, and people will argue about that for decades. So the idea we are going to send a robot to to solve this problem, I think really unlikely. ”
That is why NASA is looking at the big step forward of “bringing samples back to Earth”. “Skeptic scientists,” Fassett said, “and if we convince scientists, then (with) samples are returned. I could be wrong. Maybe there is a fossil… I just don’t think it’s most likely. ”
The plan is that if Perseverance finds “interesting models,” they will be collected and stored in the locator until the Mars Rover arrives in the late 2020s.
The return mission will be a collaboration with the European Space Agency. It includes a “fetch detector” to land on Mars and take samples from Perseverance and then transfer them to a “back” rocket that will launch them into Mars orbit. Another spacecraft in orbit will collect samples and send them back to Earth.
All of this will be expensive, complicated and time consuming, but it will be billions of dollars cheaper, much faster, and a lot less complicated than the first human flight to the planet. And it could answer the fundamental question of extraterrestrial life. “We haven’t found life anywhere else in the Universe except Earth,” said Fassett, “so for the first time we’ll have to be very alert to find a case for it. That will be a paradigmatic discovery.
Fassett’s discovery and the long wait to test it are part of the space exploration story. “One of the things you are familiar with when exploring other planets is the possibility that your findings will be harder to test further,” he said. “There is no guarantee when I did this in 2004, 2005 that we will be going to this place on Mars. Mars has the land area of all continents on Earth put together. So the odds are that you only choose one particular point and that is where you will go, you have to be quite lucky to keep track of your observations to get there.
“It’s not just patience,” he said. “It’s also luck that allows us to push the envelope to this particular location.”
Does he want to go to Mars to see it with his own eyes? “I think if I get the chance, I might do it,” Fassett said. “I’m quite a bit afraid of risks, so I don’t know if I’m the one who will be your first choice as an astronaut. I think the reason we have who we have is a certain tolerance for a well-chosen risk ”.
“I love the fact that we can build these robots to become our adventurers in a remote part of the universe where we don’t have to be there to breathe, keep feeding and turn around. Again, hopefully, ”he said. “So yes, I hope in the next 50 years people will travel to space more often, but I personally won’t go there.”
“Maybe,” he added.