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NASA makes first step for search for ancient life on Mars, 9,000 Cypriot names land with Perseverance

After completing a journey of almost seven months, NASA`s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars on the 18th of February 2021 and is now ready to carry its important mission, which is mainly focused on searching for signs of ancient microbial life. To celebrate this event, the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO) and the US Embassy in Nicosia hosted an online event covering live the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars.

CSEO`s President George Danos was joined by Wes Stange, Science and Technology Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus, with whom he discussed the goals of this ground-breaking Mars Mission which will search for signs of ancient microbial life, that will advance NASA`s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars.

Asked by CNA what will be NASA`s steps if it finds signs of life, Wes Stange said that if,  after years of study, it is confirmed that signs of ancient microbial life were found, this would be a revolutionary discovery.

He pointed out that Perseverance’s aim is first to collect samples of possible traces of ancient life and in the coming years, together with other space agencies, they will plan a return mission of these samples to Earth for further detailed study.

If we actually find signs of ancient microbial life, this will be one of the most monumental  discoveries, he said, but noted that we still have a long way to go.

Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars. A first during this unique mission is the use of a helicopter to explore Mars. On the underside of the Mars rover, a small robotic helicopter is attached that will be deployed after landing. This Mars helicopter named Ingenuity is planned to be used to test the technology to scout targets of interest on Mars and help plan the best driving route for future Mars rovers.  It also carries microphones that will capture a very clear sound from this distant planet for the first time. In addition, the rover has built-in high-definition cameras that for the first time will allow us to see and experience in detail the landing on Mars.

9,000 Cypriots sent their names to Mars
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Nine thousand Cypriots have taken the opportunity to participate in NASA`s “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign, which invited people around the world to submit their names to ride aboard Perseverance. In total, 10,932,295 people submitted their names from all over the world.

According to NASA, the names were stenciled by electron beam onto three fingernail-sized silicon chips which were then attached to an aluminum plate on NASA`s Perseverance Mars rover.

How Cyprus is connected to Mars missions
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It is noted that this mission is of significance for Cyprus as well, since it will study the Mars atmosphere. In 2018, at the invitation of CSEO, top scientists from around the world who study the upper atmosphere of Mars have decided that Nicosia will become their permanent venue for the meetings they hold every two years.

The scientists, members of the Mars Upper Atmosphere Network (MUAN), held a meeting in Nicosia in 2018 during which they discussed about international co-operation for future exploration missions to Mars.

Nicosia was chosen due to its strategic geographic location and CSEO offered to host the official website of MUAN in which all their discussions, publications, results, papers, will be published.

In addition, in November 2020 a team of planetary scientists visited in Cyprus  at the invitation of CSEO in the framework of the space research programme in which the CSEO is participating in cooperation with other three European countries, as well as the US.

The programme includes sending space equipment to Mars to measure the age of the rocks on the red planet, a project which is of great importance since there are no previous accurate measurements of the age of the Mars rocks from previous missions.

The geology on the Troodos mountains in Cyprus has a lot in common with the rocks on Mars and for this reason CSEO had extended the invitation to the team of planetary scientists in order to verify that indeed the geology of Troodos has sites which are similar to those on Mars. The aim is to test first the space equipment on Troodos before sending them to Mars.

Rover lands near ancient lake
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The rover landed with success near the 45 kilometers wide Jezero Crater. It is believed that the crater was once a lake, flooded with water from the nearby ancient river delta. After five years of study, NASA identified 60 possible locations for landing, and finally chose the Jezero Crater, where signs of ancient microbial life may hide.

(CNA)

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