Perseverance rover, Ingenuity helicopter, and the search for ancient life on Mars

we first told you about the tiny helicopter  ingenuity and the one-ton rover perseverance nearly a year ago before they left  earth but they’ve come a very long way since then in february they landed in a hazardous  and previously unexplored part of mars called the jezreel crater where perseverance will  be looking for signs of ancient life last month ingenuity disconnected from  perseverance’s belly and made history performing the first flights ever  in the atmosphere of another planet it’s hard to imagine but worth remembering  as you watch what we’re about to show you that this all happened millions of miles away in  outer space the story will continue in a moment last month in this desolate martian crater 170  million miles from earth perseverance posed for a selfie with ingenuity the little helicopter it  had just dropped off two weeks later the rover’s cameras recorded ingenuity’s historic first flight  hovering 10 feet off the ground for 30 seconds it may not look like much but for those who’d  worked so long to make it happen it was a reason to rejoice project manager mimi ong led the team  at nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in california that’s been working on ingenuity for six  years how hard is it to fly helicopter in mars very very very hard we really uh truly started  with the question of is it possible a lot of people thought it could not be done because it’s  really counterintuitive i mean you need atmosphere for the blaze to push atmosphere to get lived  the atmosphere on mars is completely different than the world the atmosphere at mars is so thin i  mean the room we’re in right it’s compared to that it was one percent of the atmospheric density  over there so the question of really can you generate enough lift you know to really build to  lift up anything that was a fundamental question in subsequent flights ingenuity has gone longer  and farther traveling for about two minutes and nearly the length of three football fields  it is a triumph not only for nasa but for its partners in the private sector who help make  various parts of the helicopter don’t let it go don’t freak out matt keenan has a history  of making unusual things that can fly he’s an engineer at a company called aerovironment which  produces drones for military and civilian use i mean that’s incredible ten years ago for  a military research project keenan and his team created this robotic hummingbird  which has a tiny camera on board whoa there it is oh my god that’s amazing  keenan and engineer ben pipenberg led the aerovironment team that created ingenuities  rotors motors and landing gear why was this so challenging because it has to be a spacecraft  as well as an aircraft and and flying it as an aircraft on mars is pretty challenging because  of the density of the air that’s similar to about earth at 100 000 feet how do you go about it well  so building everything extremely lightweight is really really critical the helicopter’s  blades for example are made of a styrofoam like material coated with carbon fiber  yeah looks like they’re stiff and strong get a sense of how lightweight and stiff that  is i mean it’s nothing yeah it weighs nothing but incredibly light here we go taking off this  is the first time they’ve shown an outsider this version of ingenuity which they plan to  use for education and research they call it terry a lift off here on earth terry’s blades  are spinning at about 400 revolutions per minute on mars in the thin atmosphere they’d have to  spin six times faster to generate the same lift ingenuity costs 85 million dollars to build  and operate terry a lot less but it’s still nerve-wracking to be handed its controls all right  go ahead you’ve got it slide it right you can push it all the way to the right if you want slide  left wow i’ll bring it up a little bit now stop the joysticks we use to fly terry are of no use  on mars radio signals take too long to get there all right let me take over now i’ve switched  you out and we’ll go back to the even someone is good at flying drones and hummingbirds as matt  keenan couldn’t fly a helicopter on mars here’s what happened in 2014 in a test chamber that  replicated the atmosphere on mars when keenan tried to use a joystick to fly an early version  of ingenuity surprise wow all right so much for that vehicle so this very quick demonstration as  it should you a human being can’t respond quickly enough to control it exactly so engineers at  the jet propulsion laboratory equipped ingenuity with a computerized system that allows it  to stabilize itself and navigate on its own in 2016 the new system aced the chamber test the  blades are being commanded you know four or five hundred times per second they proved it could fly  but ingenuity still had to weigh under four pounds and fit in the belly of perseverance five four  engine ignition two one and it had to be tough enough to survive the journey to mars and liftoff  on july 30th 2020 perseverance and ingenuity took off from cape canaveral nearly seven months  later as this simulation shows the spacecraft’s heat shield hit the martian atmosphere going 12  000 miles per hour perseverance ready to execute entry descent and landing on her own as he sat in  the control room al chen the leader of the landing team had absolutely no control radio signals would  take about 11 minutes to travel from earth to mars the spacecraft was pre-programmed to descend  maneuver and pick a landing site on its own all the work his colleagues hoped to do on  mars would be impossible if his part of the mission failed how long have you been working  on this mission coming up on nine years or so really that’s a lot of work for seven minutes  nine years of work seven minutes of terror it’s done if the parachute doesn’t work  that’s right you know no one wants to be that the guy that drops the baton no landing by  a spacecraft has ever been recorded as well as this one there were six cameras capturing it  all from different angles the parachute deployed then the heat shield fell away like a lens cap  and perseverance got its first look at the ground this is not a simulation this is what  it looks like to parachute onto mars how fast is it moving at this point yeah we’re  still going about 350 miles an hour and still slowing down so it looks gentle here but in fact  it’s falling at more than 300 miles an hour that’s right we’re heading straight down at near race  car speeds below lay a series of safe landing spots but the wind was blowing the spacecraft  towards more treacherous territory to the east and perseverance sent a message to earth  saying the thrusters it needed to slow down might not be working properly so you get a reading  saying the jets that are going to help it slow down and control the landing that they’re not  working so what do you do there’s nothing you can do right everything’s already happened that’s the  mind-bending part of this right you are sweating now yeah exactly i’m right back there again so  yeah altitude of about 300 meters to alchem’s relief perseverance’s computerized landing system  did what it was designed to do it found a suitable landing spot even in rocky terrain and despite  the warning the thrusters worked you can see them kicking up dust as they fire to slow the  spacecraft down skyteam maneuver has started the descent stage known as the sky crane lowered  perseverance to the ground it hovered for a moment then flew off to crash a safe distance away  and there goes the descent touchdown confirmed on the surface so at that point big sigh of relief  you know i almost collapsed over this console ever since perseverance landed on the red  planet a team of engineers programmers and scientists here on earth have been living  on mars time it’s their job to monitor the rover’s health and tell it where to go and how  to search for signs of life while perseverance sleeps to conserve energy during the freezing  martian nights the team on earth analyzes the photographs and instrument readings it’s sent back  they then prepare a list of things for it to do the following morning when it wakes up and so it’s  just after midnight on mars the vehicle is asleep project manager matt wallace explained that a  day on mars is 40 minutes longer than on earth the team’s schedule is constantly changing so  all the people here are mars night shift workers yeah that’s a good way to think of it yeah but  i mean working night shift is tough enough but this is a night shift that’s constantly constantly  moving that’s right yeah on perseverance’s fourth day on mars it swiveled the powerful camera on  its mask and took a look around a space enthusiast named sean doran put the images together set them  to music and posted the movie on youtube even one of the top scientists on the project was moved  when he saw it you know i went and got a beer and watched this thing scroll by and and that moment  that was the moment when i felt like i was there ken furley leads the science team that will  direct perseverance through the jezreel crater it’s an area that scientists have long wanted  to search for signs of ancient life that may be hidden in the rocks the oldest evidence of life on  earth is about three and a half billion years old those rocks were deposited in a shallow sea this  crater that you see here was a lake three and a half billion years ago so we are looking at the  same environment in the same time period on two different planets and if it’s determined however  long in the future that no there was not ever life what does that mean the place where  perseverance landed here in jezreel crater is the most habitable time period on mars and the  most habitable environment that we know about this is this is as good as it gets at least with our  current understanding of what mars has to offer and if we don’t find life here it does make us  worry that perhaps it doesn’t exist anywhere perseverance hasn’t strayed far from its landing  site yet but its telescopic camera has already spotted a large number of boulders that ken farley  says he didn’t expect to see in the middle of an ancient lake so this has surprised you absolutely  yeah so what did those boulders tell you the most reasonable interpretation is a flood  you don’t have fast flowing water out in the middle of the lake you get fast flowing water  in a river and so what that’s telling us is there was a river that was capable of transporting  boulders that were this big so what the lake would have gone down perhaps and then later on  there was a flood yeah exactly perseverance was supposed to leave ingenuity behind after  a 30-day demonstration of its flying ability the nasa officials recently said they’ll  keep the duo together for another month to explore how rovers and helicopters might work  together in the future fastest the perseverance was designed to travel is a tenth of a mile per  hour ingenuity has already gone 80 times faster according to project manager mimi ong adding  an aerial vehicle a flying vehicle for space exploration will be game changing it frees you  in a way absolutely yes so a flying vehicle a rotorcraft would allow us to get to places  we simply can’t access today like slice of steep clips you know inside deep crevices after  perseverance explores the floor of jezreel crater it’ll head towards what’s believed to be the  remnant of an ancient river delta where billions of years ago conditions should have been right for  microorganisms to exist as this simulation shows the rover’s robotic arm can collect about 40 core  samples of rock that’ll be sealed in special tubes and left on the planet’s surface nasa plans to  send another mission to mars to retrieve the tubes and bring them back to earth in about 10 years ken  farley says scientists examining those samples may be confronted with a new and perplexing question  how do you look for life that may not be life as you know it we’ve never had to do that before  we’ve never had to actually ask the question is there a form of life that we can’t even conceive  of yeah we’re gonna have to conceive of it i think that’s the whole point of this we’re going to have  to start conceiving of life as we don’t know it if all goes according to plan perseverance  will be making tracks on mars for years to come since its carrying the first working audio  microphones on the red planet will leave you with what it sounds like as the one ton rover slowly  moves across the vast lonely expanses of mars explore the martian surface this is  something that we’ve never done before at 60 sponsored by ibrance

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