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In 1609, the Italian Galileo Galilei observed Mars with a telescope primitive, being the first to use the technology for astronomical. Fifty years later, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens to use a telescope more advanced of their own design to make the first drawing topographical survey of the red planet. Since then, humanity has advanced much in his knowledge of our neighbor. But there are still many questions in the air.

If all goes according to plan, in less than a month to launch the mission Perseverance Mars 2020 . Specifically, NASA will send the July 30 from Cape Canaveral your new rover, a vehicle equipped with the latest technology and destined to make history. Your main objective will be to give a response to precisely one of the questions that have intrigued human beings for centuries: is There or was there any kind of life on Mars? Although its remit will go far beyond from the moment you put your wheels on the ground, which is expected to happen in February 2021.

“We come closer than ever to answer old questions of the science on the Red Planet, including if you ever came to live there”, explains in a press release Lori Glaze , director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington. Here, eight questions to know everything about one of the most important missions of the year.

1. Overcoming difficulties

Every mission has a number of challenges that can be categorized into two: those that are planned in advance and those that are emerging in the way. So, Perseverance Mars 2020 -with a budget of 2,500 million dollars – plans to bring the latest technology and science in the arid and rocky planet mars, in which the probes have to make dangerous landings. But there will not end its role because for the first time will gather samples of rocks and sediments that in a near future return to the Earth to be analysed in our laboratories in order to aid in human exploration beyond the Moon.

But with what it lacked was a global pandemic that confinaría in their homes to 80% of the planet, including many of the scientists working on finalizing the mission. “To build this rover is the most difficult thing that I’ve had to face as an engineer,” explains Ray Baker , manager of the flight system of the mission at the jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in southern California. “Although the coronavirus joined challenges and logistics are significant, the team has shown a great determination and diligence to build a rover of which we can be proud to send to Mars.”

2. The lessons learned from their predecessors

The first rover of NASA, the modest Sojourner , showed in 1997 that a robot could move by Mars. Their successors, the Spirit and Opportunity , that aterrizadon in 2004, found no evidence that the planet once hosted water before you become a frozen desert. is Curiosity , which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012, he discovered that where it landed its probe, the Gale crater , was a huge lake thousands of millions of years, with an environment that could have supported microbial life.

The Perseverance aims to take the next step and confirm that life, in fact, populated ever Mars. If it is what he did. “We know that the water once flowed, but the question remains: for how long?”, says astrophysicist Francis Rocard in his recent essay, “Latest news from Mars”, according to AFP. “We don’t even know how much time it took life to appear on Earth.”

3. A landing place with potential

about 45 kilometres in diameter, the crater Jezero , at the western edge of the basin, giant Isidis Planitia , to the north of the martian equator, is the place chosen by NASA to write the next point of the story. And fair the chosen that area because at some time ago 3,000 or 4,000 million years ago-when scientists suspect that it could have life in Mars- , river flowed through the land .

“The science team has had a lot of discussions about where it should go next Mars rover,” says Ken Farley , project scientist of the mission. “Finally we chose Jezero because it is a very promising to find organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life”.

For the moment, the orbiters on Mars have been collecting images and other data of the crater Jezero from about 300 miles, but finding signs of ancient life on the surface will require a inspection much closer , which makes Perseverance the perfect tool.

4. What if Mars never harbored life?

Although there are many indications that the life could develop on Mars, yet there is no biological evidence direct. Therefore, the answer to the question of whether the red planet ever knew life can be a resounding “no” . Even in this scenario, that track “could enrich all of our understanding of how life developed on our own planet “, says Jorge Vago , a spokesman for the European Space Agency (ESA).

So in the worst of scenarios, the answer will always be useful.

5. Not only biology: also geology and meteorology

But the question of whether Mars hosted life (or not) depends not only on finding the remains, but you must also understand the weather conditions past of our neighbor, and read the geologic history embedded in the rocks to understand how it came about.

For example, due to the change of the plate tectonics below the core of the Earth, it is extremely difficult to find traces of life here before 3.500 million years ago. is Mars , which is a kind of planet, “time capsule”, because you do not have tectonic plates , offers the best chance of that is kept there signs of life, 4,000 million years that it would be impossible to find here. In addition, Perseverance will yield clues about how our planet and our neighbor, which were formed from the same material as primary, ended up being so different.

6. The first phase of a round trip

One of the main innovations of the mission Perseverance Mars 2020 is that it will be the first vehicle capable of collecting samples of rocks and sediments that will package up the remains most promising for that in the near future are sent to Earth.

NASA and ESA is already planning a mission return samples of Mars with the objective of analyzing them in-depth in the terrestrial laboratory, which could effectively determine whether our neighbor red ever gave the conditions in which life is opened step.

7. Opening the way to human space exploration

The mission will also serve to test some navigation systems that could be key in the further travel of the humanity of both the Moon and Mars. For example, the program navigation aid for autonomous rover to avoid hazards during the landing, or the sensor array of the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2), who collected crucial data during the trip through the martian atmosphere, will aid future human missions.

But it does not end there: the system of artificial intelligence improved for driving autonomously, and the set of instruments, Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer ( MEDA ), which will provide key information on the climate, the weather and the dust storms on mars; on the other hand, the technology Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment ( MOXIE ), aims to produce oxygen from the atmosphere of carbon dioxide of Mars, demonstrating a way in which future explorers could produce oxygen for the propellant and rocket for his own breathing.

8. Mars as never seen before

Both the Mars 2020 as the rover that carries have a total of 23 cameras , more than any other mission interplanetary in the story. With them you will be able to get a view of high definition of the process of landing, and deliver landscape images and scientific specimens with an impressive detail. And as with the previous missions to Mars, this plan to make the images in raw and processed are available on the website of the mission, the scope of the entire scientific community.