Rover will visit the red planet, looking for life

NASA is attempting its toughest Martian touchdown yet. The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is headed Thursday for a compact 5-mile-by-4-mile patch on the edge of an ancient river delta on Mars. (Feb. 16)

Video Transcript

- There are four main objectives of the Perseverance rover mission. The first one, of course, is to understand the geology, so looking at rocks. But we're really interested in specific things that geology can tell us, like habitability in the past. So habitability is an environment in which life as we understand it could have existed. So we're looking for these past environments that could have supported microbial life on Mars, as recorded in the rocks.

We're also going to be looking at the astrobiological potential of Mars. So we're looking for signatures. This is signs of past microbial life actually being on Mars. So this is really exciting. It's not just environments for life, but rather life itself. It could be something morphological, you know, like a fossil. But it's probably going to be more likely something that will be chemical or mineralogical that we're looking for.

We'll also be supporting a future mission to return samples to Earth. So we'll be identifying samples that have good possibilities for bio-signatures and we're going to cache them for a future pickup by another spacecraft to bring it back to Earth, to be able to analyze these materials in more detail in our laboratories.

We're trying to prepare for a future human mission to Mars, so of course we're going to assess the current environmental conditions. But we're also going to be testing some technologies that might support our future astronauts. So one thing that we're doing is we're doing, we're making oxygen on the surface as part of the MOXIE instrument. So we're trying to do that not only for astronauts have something to breathe, but so they can have rocket fuel, so they can come back as well.

And we're also testing a helicopter which will be the very first rotorcraft on Mars, which is really fun and exciting. So we're going to use that as a scout.