LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - On Thursday, NASA's toughest Mars mission yet touched down as the Perseverance rover landed in a compact patch on the edge of an ancient river bed on the red planet.
NASA launched Perseverance on July 30, 2020. Seven months later, it arrived. The landing area is filled with cliffs, pits, sand dunes, and rocks which posed a challenge for the $3 billion mission.
The big question they are searching for answers to is, "Is there now or has there ever been life on Mars?" explained Bob Allen, UW La Crosse Planetarium Director.
"Well, if you find a skull or amoeba or anything in between, or living, you've got it there otherwise you are looking for fossils," said Allen.
The thing about this spacecraft, Allen said, is that it will be able to do more than others have in the past.
"In the past, they have been microwave sized or a small car, where this one is a good medium sized car. It also has a drone, but the most important thing is that it has some tubes and samples that are going to be brought back to the Earth," said Allen.
He explained that the instruments that have made this entire mission possible are taking it to another level. While humans haven't been able to go to Mars yet, Allen said within the next few years, it could be very possible.
The importance of this mission is that discoveries will continue to be made, Allen said, and curiosity drives these missions.
"You look over the mountain and you look for what's on the other side of the mountain, you go to the Earth, you have explored the poles back and forth, what is there left? Well, we are going to take some steps out to the moon and it's the same thing, first you do a fly by, then you do an orbiter, then you do a lander, then in the Moon's case you think about actually taking astronauts there, so there's a natural sequence there," said Allen.
Data will start coming in from the Rover within a few weeks or a month but the Perseverance won't return from Mars for at least a year or two in this next step to discovering if there is life on other planets.