A look into NASA’s mission to find life on Mars

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is getting ready for the launch of the next generation rover with the hope of finding life on Mars. Scheduled to launch in July 2020, the new rover is using the most advanced technology ever to bring scientific data collected by a robotic geologist on the surface of Mars.

TRANSCRIPT

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is getting ready for the launch of the next-generation Rover, with the hope of finding life on Mars.

Scheduled to launch in July 2020, the new rover is using the most advanced technology ever to bring scientific data collected by a robotic geologist on the surface of Mars.

Here's the story.

'T' minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 4, 3, 2, 1.

Main engine start.

Zero. And liftoff of the Atlas V with Curiosity, seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars.

For the last 20 years, NASA has had a constant robotic presence on Mars, mostly looking for signs of water.

The Curiosity rover has been stationed on the Red Planet for the last five years.

Now NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is getting ready for the launch of the next-generation rover.

It's called Mars 2020.

You could say it's the Curiosity rover on steroids.

Instead of looking for things like signs of water, NASA's trying to find signs of life.

Was there life on Mars billions of years ago?

With a scheduled launch date of July 2020, the new rover is using the most advanced technology ever to bring science data collected from Mars back to Earth to help answer that question.

Do you believe, as a scientist, knowing what you do, there was an ancient life on Mars?

I believe it's absolutely possible.

Ken Williford is a geochemist with JPL and the deputy project scientist for Mars 2020.

Williford explains the main objectives of the new rover mission.

So, we're basically acting as a robotic geologist on the surface of Mars.

So we're trying to understand how the rocks we see around us, how the rocks we find were formed and how they changed over time.

The second objective is to do what we call in situ astrobiology, the study of life outside Earth.

And we're interested to understand if the planet Mars was ever inhabited.

And that's where we start to do something like planetary paleontology.

And paleontology on Earth we might think of as, you know, studying dinosaurs.

We think of planet paleontologists as, you know, 'Jurassic Park,' running around looking at dinosaur bones and so forth.

What we're doing is microbial paleontology.

We're studying the potential ancient record of life on Mars and looking at the ancient record of life in the solar system.

The third objective is to use the data we collect with our various scientific instruments as we explore our landing site to find the best locations in our landing site that we think have the best hope of preserving signs of ancient life or signs of ancient environmental change on Mars.

And we'll go to those locations and we'll sample them.

Mars 2020 is kind of like the Indiana Jones of the solar system, in search of ancient artifacts.

Part of the way NASA scientists plan on doing this is to collect as many rock samples as possible.

This is the most challenging robotic development that JPL has ever embarked upon.

JPL's Keith Rosette is part of the team that manages the development of Mars 2020.

He explains the rock-collection process.

This is the test arm and drill that will be mounted onto the Mars 2020 rover.

Our drill is a rotary percussive drill.

It's like the drill you would use to cut into concrete or a jackhammer here on Earth.

It spins and has a hammer that pounds onto it that helps us cut into rock.

It collects the sample into a tube that is inside the bit, and the robotic arm brings that back inside the rover, where we then seal it up in a tube and get it ready to come back to Earth.

We hope to find signs of past life.

We hope to find some fossilized remnants of microbes.

We hope to find organic molecules.

Anything that might indicate that there was life in Mars' ancient past.

Jim Lewis is helping unlock that ancient past.

Lewis is a JPL physicist working on Mars 2020.

He is a manager for what's known as MOXIE.

MOXIE is a demonstration mission.

It's one of the seven competitively placed instruments on the Mars 2020 rover.

What it does is -- it converts Mars' atmosphere into usable oxygen for humans.

Now, why do we need oxygen for humans?

We need oxygen for two things -- for breathing, for humans to breathe, and, also, we use it as a propellant for rocket fuel.

Now, it's a demonstration mission.

That means that we're not storing huge amounts of oxygen.

We're just demonstrating that we can produce it on Mars.

Once we demonstrate that, then we'll send a larger mission to collect many bottles of oxygen for use.

And, just for clarification, you folks aren't sending a human to Mars -- just yet, anyway.

No, no, no.

We're nowhere near that.

For now, humans on Mars are not the What about the

The more we know about the surface of Mars, the better prepared we are within NASA to send humans to the surface and bring them back safely.

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