” Perseverance Rover and Mars Exploration – Not Easy but Worth it ” – February 22, 2021.

This is a glorious period for Indians in America holding their flags flying high after committing to nail their colours to the mast.

If Kamala Harris swung into the saddle of VP on January 20, 2021 ; if more than 20 Indians have been nominated by President, Joseph Biden, to key positions in US Administration ; – now it is Bangalore born, Dr Swati Mohan who with her parents migrated to America, adding another feather to our cap of pride in making an impactful contribution to the “Perseverance” Rover launched by NASA in their aim to explore and inhabit the Second Planet , “Mars” on Friday, February 18, 2021.

Having raised the heartbeats of millions for more than 7 minutes when the Perseverance Rover’s six wheels finally and successfully landed on the Red Planet, a new hope was kindled 47.2 crore kilometres away on Earth for the humankind.

Research Scientist ( Aerospace engineer and Guidance control Operations Lead on the NASA Mars Mission 2020 ) Dr Swati Mohan proudly made the announcement of the landing at 2.25 a.m. on Friday.

Launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on July 30, 2020, it took 203 days to cover the 300 million miles from Earth. The weight of the Rover was 1025 kilograms. Its length was 3.048 meters and height 2.13 meters. The expenditure incurred was 207 crore dollars. This is the largest and technologically most superior spacecraft launched in history so far.

It is also the first Rover in nearly thirty years to use domestically produced plutonium created by national laboratories in U.S.A. The cost of the mission is equal to the amount of money Google makes in 6 days ; or the amount of money Americans spend on pets every 10 days ; or equivalent to 33 hours of running the US Department of Defense.

One Mars year is equal to 2 Earth years. The chief aim of this mission is to characterise planet’s geology, and past climate and to be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. Explore the possibility of life or otherwise to be precise.

The 45 sq km Jezero Crater where it has landed, the site of an ancient river Delta ( previous orbital missions have pointed to the wet conditions ) has harboured life billions of years ago ; whether microbial life existed or not ; whether the temperature patterns are life preserving ; collecting samples of rocks ; testing new technology that can benefit future robotic and human missions to the planet – are some of the objectives constituting this mission.

Research pertaining to the atmospheric gases is the top priority now. Past research has evidenced the existence of nearly 90% carbon dioxide in Mars atmosphere. Plants, shrubs, and trees on earth take CO2 and release O2 during the day while they take O2 and release CO2 during night on Earth. This type of exchange is not found in Mars. Hence, the scientists have carried an instrument called ‘MOXIE’ to Mars this time to test the production of O2 from CO2 in Mars. This is the most significant aspect of this launch that will ascertain the possibility of human inhabitation in future.

Mars exploration is not new ; starting as early as in 1960s several attempts have been made in the last 60 years or so. Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1975 were the successful early launches by America. About 16000 photographs were collected during that time. “Pathfinder” in 1996 ; “Spirit” and “Opportunity” in 2004 ; “Phoenix” Mars Lander in 2008 ; “Curiosity” in 2012 and “InSight” Lander in 2018 are the other launches from America. Each of these has served to bring new insights to the process of Mars Exploration.

India launched its ” Mangalyaan” in 2013 first ; UAE’s Al Amal ( “Hope” – 2021 ) is the Arab World’s first such mission that landed on February 9, 2021 ; and China’s “Tianwen 1” landed on February 10, 2021 is its first now orbiting the red planet ; China’s “Tianwen 2” will be landing in May. India’s “Mangalyaan 2” is getting ready to be launched. (exact date is not known, however).

Whether Mars holds water for human habitation ; whether Mars has a congenial atmosphere with enough O2 for human inhabitation ; and whether Mars has congenial temperature for the safe existence of human beings are some of the ongoing researches on this aspect.

The secret of evolution of life in other planets is the primary quest that drives the human interest to explore Mars now. It is the vista of the greatest opportunity that our children, grandchildren, and/or great grand children can hope for with joy, dream, and ecstasy of reaping the benefits in their lifetime.

” Dieu avec nous “

Monday, February 22, 2021 – 10.29 a.m. (IST)

Tidbit : ” To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit ” – Stephen Hawking.

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