Nasa’s Mars mission: ‘I hope to inspire the next generation’, says scientist

A

scientist working on Nasa’s historic rover mission to Mars has said she hopes her work inspires the next generation.

Geobiologist Kelsey Moore, a postdoctoral fellow at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab, is part of the team searching for possible evidence of life in rock samples from the Red Planet.

Ms Moore said it was “incredible” to see first-of-its-kind video captured by the Perseverance rover as it touched down on the red planet on February 18.

The US space agency also on Monday released the first audio recorded on the surface of Mars.

The minute-long footage the rover recorded is the first time such video has been captured.

Ms Moore told the Standard: “It’s incredible to me to see those initial images.

“It’s also incredibly exciting to think about how much more we have ahead of us and what we’re about to do.

“It feels like a really amazing moment to be part of this mission.”

Ms Moore added she could never have dreamt of working on such a project as child or when she was at college.

She said: “It’s been a really exciting ride to get here but I just hope that people, if they are interested in science, maths and engineering, that they pursue those passions and curiosity.

“Working at JPL and Nasa, these kinds of missions are within their grasp. So, follow your dreams.”

After the rover, which blasted off from Earth last July, entered the Martian atmosphere Ms Moore’s colleagues said there were “seven minutes of terror” as it made its way to the surface.

It took more than 11 minutes for news of the safe landing to reach Earth, arriving at just before 9pm on Thursday.

The rover – a scientific laboratory the size of a car – is on a mission to search for signs of ancient life and explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse environments on Mars.

Perseverance will spend the coming years scouring for signs of ancient microbial life in a mission that will bring back samples to Earth and prepare the way for future human visitors.

Scientists know that 3.5 billion years ago the Jezero crater was the site of a large lake, complete with its own delta.

They believe that while the water may be long gone, somewhere within the crater, or maybe along its 2,000ft-tall rim, evidence that life once existed there could be waiting.

Ms Moore said the mission was “trickier than finding a dinosaur bone” to prove life at a time when Mars was “warmer, wetter and had a thicker atmosphere”.

She continued: “The landing site crater is a really cool and exciting place for the rover to explore because it used to hold a lake and has river deltas that lead to oceans.

“We know river systems, lakes and oceans… are really good environments for life to exist.

“So, if life ever did exist on Mars, this would be a really good place for it to have existed.

“Hopefully, the rocks contain some evidence of that.”

Perseverance will gather rock and soil samples using its drill and will store sample cores in tubes on the Martian surface ready for a return mission to bring around 30 samples to Earth in the early 2030s.

It will also trial technologies to help astronauts make future expeditions to Mars.

These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the atmosphere, identifying other resources such as subsurface water, and improving landing techniques.

They also involve characterising weather and other environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.

Ms Moore said: “Getting samples back to earth from Mars is kind of a difficult challenge for us. There’s a reason it’s never happened before.”