Science & Technology

Nasa’s Tony Carro: Perseverance hopes to find out if we are alone in universe

Carmen Rodríguez

Madrid, Feb 18 (efe-epa).- The Mars rover Perseverance will land on the Red Planet on Thursday night as it begins the search for traces of life that, if found, could mean that there could be advanced life on other planets, Nasa’s delegate in Spain, Tony Carro, tells Efe in an interview.

QUESTION: After a seven month-journey, Perseverance will land, without any assistance from Earth. Is this one of the toughest parts of the mission?

ANSWER: It’s a very, very complicated mission because it gets into orbit at an altitude of about 100 kilometers and a speed of about 20,000 kilometers per hour, and from there it has to get to the ground in about 7 or 8 minutes — what they call ‘seven minutes of terror’.

It involves decelerating (…) by means of parachutes, then retro rockets, what they call a sky crane, which the rover is hanging from another part that has rockets. So it’s very, very complicated.

Everything has to work out perfectly — Nasa has already landed on Mars eight times, it’s not the first time, although they used different methods.

Q: And when will we know how it went?

A: The first transmission from the Rover will come through the Robledo de Chavela station (in Spain), where Nasa has one of its Deep Space Network centers.

The landing will be at 21:43 CET, but we will not know anything until about 12 minutes later, because the signal has a few minutes’ delay.

When Perseverance will be descending, it will send direct signals back to Earth, informing us that the parachute has opened, the engines are working, but they will also send data with details of another Nasa mission which is orbiting Mars, for later analysis.

Q: Perseverance will search for traces of life on the red planet, but what are the other objectives of Nasa’s Mars2020 mission?

A: The search for signs of life is one of the important reasons, but we also want to continue to study its geology, its climate and prepare for future manned missions to Mars.

Q: The landing and operations site will be the Jezero crater — what’s so special about it?

A: Mars possibly had life before and previous Nasa missions, such as the Curiosity rover, determined areas where there could possibly have been some kind. We are talking about very basic organisms, not intelligent life.

The Jezero crater looks like a river had passed through it: there was sediment, possibly caused by a river, which possibly means there was life in the past.

Q: How would you feel if Perseverance finds traces of life?

A: If, among the many millions of planets, Earth was the only one where life developed, it would mean we are the exception. But if it also developed on Mars, there are many possibilities that there is life, perhaps even advanced life, in other places, and then that is a great answer to one of humanity’s great questions: are we alone or not?

Q: With this mission, in some way, you would try to answer the question of whether we are alone.

A: That’s one of the primary things. The previous missions determined that Jezero crater had a lot of possibilities, because we are confident that there was water in the past.

Life as we understand it develops with energy, with water, with organic matter, and it’s very possible that there might have been life there; that’s why it was chosen. Among the many sites that were looked at, this seemed the most likely. EFE-EPA

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