Life on Mars: ‘Excited’ NASA chief makes announcement about search for ‘ancient life’

NASA is taking the next big leap in space exploration today (July 30) with the launch of Perseverance. The alien-hunting rover has been built with the explicit goal of finding extraterrestrial life on Mars, both past and present. Weather permitting, the NASA rover will blast off today during a two-hour launch window that opens at 12.50pm BST (7.50am EDT, 4.50am PDT).

Perseverance will look for signatures of ancient microbial life in rock and soil samples collected from Mars’ Jezero crater.

Jezero is an ancient lakeshore thought to have been filled with water billions of years ago.

Life, at least as we know it on Earth, requires water to exist and Jezero is a prime candidate for NASA’s search effort.

Perseverance is expected to land in Jezero next year, after a seven-month voyage through space.

Speaking before the launch, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine highlighted the importance of the Mars 2020 mission.

Of the four rovers NASA has launched to Mars – Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity – Perseverance is the first built with the primary goal of searching for life.

Mr Bridenstine said: “I’m exceptionally excited about what we’re about to do because we’re going to launch Mars 2020 with the Perseverance robot.

“But there is so much more going on here. This is the first time in history where we’re going to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world – ancient life on Mars.”

We’re going to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator

Perseverance will collect and store a number of rock samples that could one day make their way back to home.

By 2026, NASA hopes to launch a follow-up mission to collect the Perseverance samples – a feat that has never been attempted before.

Mr Bridenstine said: “In 2026, we’re going to launch a mission from Earth to Mars to go pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth.

“For the first time in history, we’re doing a Mars sample return mission.”

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Mars is believed to have once resembled a young Earth, with flowing surface water and a hot and humid atmosphere.

Between three and four billion years ago, vast river networks sprawled across the planet.

Conditions in these ancient waterways may have been right for simple, microbial life to develop.

Many of NASA’s scientists are convinced evidence of alien microbes will be found one day deep below the surface.

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said: “On Mars, there is a special place that we’re going, called Jezero crater, where there was once a lake, a standing body of water back when it was warmer and wetter on Mars.

“And this was about 3.5 billion years ago, but at the time it was possible life could have formed, and if it did, it should be preserved there and we’re going to measure that.”

However, whatever may have evolved on Mars in the past would have been no bigger than simple microbes.

These are some of the earliest known types of life to have developed on Earth.

Dr Glaze said: “We don’t necessarily think that it evolved much past that because conditions on Mars really aren’t very conducive to Mars, certainly not today.

“But we do think it’s possible that those microorganisms could have been present 3.5 billion years ago, and we’ll look for their chemical signatures.”

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