International partners empower NASA’s mission on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover is lowered to the Martian surface February 18 to begin its astrobiology research and search for signs of ancient microbial life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA’s Perseverance rover is lowered to the Martian surface February 18 to begin its astrobiology research and search for signs of ancient microbial life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

By Leigh Hartman

When NASA’s Perseverance rover searches Mars for signs of ancient life it uses technology from partner nations across Europe.

The 2,260-pound (1,025-kilogram) rover is armed with imaging and sensor equipment from France, Italy, Spain and Norway.

“It’s on a mission of exploration, with elements contributed by our European partners to seek evidence of the possibility of life beyond our planet and the mysteries of the universe,” President Biden told the Munich Security Conference February 19. “That’s what we can do together.”

He noted plans for a future NASA joint mission with the European Space Agency to retrieve the samples Perseverance collects and return them to Earth.

The rim of Jezero Crater as seen in the first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument February 23 aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. View full interactive image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU)

These technologies will help Perseverance search for signs of life and improve our understanding of Mars:

  • The Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), developed at the Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial in Madrid, will provide daily weather reports that will help prepare for future human exploration of Mars.
  • Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) uses ground-penetrating radar to study Mars geography and search for water and ice more than 30 feet (9 meters) underground. RIMFAX was developed by a team from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
  • The SuperCam will analyze rocks and soil in search of signs of past life. U.S. and French researchers contributed to SuperCam, which uses a camera, laser and other equipment to analyze samples from up to 20 feet (6 meters) away.
  • Laser Retroreflector Array (LaRA) is a palm-sized device with reflectors designed to enable laser tracking of equipment on the planet’s surface and to make future landings more precise. Scientists at Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics developed the array.

After a 300 million–mile (483 million–kilometer), seven-month journey to Mars, Perseverance will spend the next Martian year — the equivalent of two years on earth — exploring Mars, aided by equipment from partner nations. In his remarks, Biden hailed Perseverance’s mission as an example of how much nations can accomplish by working together. “We can meet any challenge we [face] on Earth,” he said.