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Mars Perseverance rover project has big potential for future, expert says

Flights in the Red Planet’s atmosphere are the rover’s most interesting task, according to the Russian scientist

MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is a project with big potential for the future aimed at human exploration of the Red Planet, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Andrei Ionin told TASS on Friday.

The Perseverance rover touched down the Red Planet’s surface in the area of Jezero Crater on February 18. All the operations were conducted in the automatic mode. For several months now, a full check of the rover’s systems and equipment will be carried out. NASA specialists expect to find the traces of ancient life on Mars with the rover’s assistance.

"This is an advance. This is a project with a big focus on the future," the expert stressed.

Flights in the Red Planet’s atmosphere are the rover’s most interesting task, the Russian scientist said.

A transport vehicle, which NASA calls the Ingenuity helicopter, is expected to detach from the rover and make several flights. "This is a new technical solution and this is interesting. This is a peculiar invention, the icing on the cake," the expert said.

It is problematic to fly in the Martian atmosphere because it is extremely rarified compared to Earth, Ionin specified. "On the surface of Mars, the density is the same as on Earth at an altitude of about 40 km. As you understand, only military aircraft or stratosphere balloons fly at an altitude of 40 km in Earth’s conditions," the expert added.

The Russian scientist compared the Ingenuity helicopter to a small drone off-road vehicle drivers sometimes use to map a route.

Previous rovers sometimes fell into a trap of stones and into cracks, which they could not exit for a long time. A new technical solution will help avoid these problems, the expert stressed.

Humans on Mars

Helicopters will also come in handy during human flights to Mars, the expert said.

"In a piloted program, it is, of course, quicker and easier to fly than to ride on the surface, especially when there are no roads there," he stressed, adding that it was better for automated systems to conduct surveys because this could be dangerous.

"This is like a forerunner of future piloted projects related to the Mars exploration. We know the person who is advancing this idea. This name is constantly heard," Ionin said.

Forty-nine year-old Elon Musk earlier said he had founded SpaceX for eventually helping humankind to colonize Mars. SpaceX is now developing a Starship reusable spacecraft designed for flights to the Red Planet and capable of carrying up to 100 people. As NASA’s plans suggest, the first human flights to Mars may begin in the mid-2030s.

An Atlas V launch vehicle with the rover blasted off from the spaceport at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July 2020. The Perseverance is due to place rock and soil samples into about 40 special containers. Another rover will retrieve these containers in 2026. The containers will be loaded into a special ascent vehicle that will deliver them to the Martian orbit. Another spacecraft will pick up the samples for their return to Earth. NASA expects this mission to take place in the 2030s.