This week marks British Science Week, and if you’re anything like our own science students, you may well be following the recent NASA exploration of Mars with great interest. With developments like this hitting the headlines more and more often, it’s certainly an exciting time to be studying science and engineering.
Launched in July 2020, and after a seven-month journey of some 300 million miles, costing £1.95 billion, 18 February 2021 saw NASA’s Perseverance Rover land on Mars to begin searching for possible traces of ancient microbial life and to test possible future oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere.
Perseverance landed in a 28-mile wide crater, which contains sediments of an ancient river delta and where evidence of past life could be preserved – if it ever existed on Mars. The rover will use its drill to collect samples from Martian rocks before storing the samples on the surface, which a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign will bring back to Earth as soon as 2031.
According to the UK Space Agency, Professor Sanjeev Gupta, from Imperial College London, will assist NASA by overseeing mission operations from a science and engineering point of view. Imperial’s Professor Mark Sephton will assist in identifying samples that could contain evidence of past life.
Professor Caroline Smith, from the Natural History Museum, will study the mineralogy and geochemistry of the different rocks found in the crater, whilst Dr Keyron Hickman-Lewis will study the sedimentary rocks and the potential for signatures of ancient microbial life within them.
Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “It is great to see a strong representation of UK scientists and engineers involved in the Perseverance mission. Over the next few years, our scientists will play a leading role in this international endeavour.”
NASA’s Perseverance Rover was one of three space missions sent towards Mars during a July 2020 ‘launch window’. This minimum-energy launch period occurs around once every two years and two months and is the most cost-effective time in which a rocket can be launched to reach its intended target. The next window in 2022 will see the UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover blast-off into space, heading to the red planet.
Follow the 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission for the latest updates and information.