How the Mars Perseverance mission could provide clues to where Earth is headed

Feb 22, 2021, 8:19 AM

It was all cheers and fist bumps at NASA Mission Control as they celebrated the picture perfect landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars last week, the fifth rover to reach the surface of the Red Planet, and by far the most ambitious.

Astronaut Ron Garan spent 178 days in space and traveled over 71 million miles while orbiting our planet on the International Space Station. He joined the Gee and Ursula Show to reflect on the landing.

“What an amazing feat it is. You have to think that that spacecraft traveled 300 million miles and it entered the upper atmosphere of Mars at 12,000 mph, and what they went through — what’s being called the seven minutes of terror — where it goes from 12,000 mph to zero on the surface in seven minutes,” Garan said.

UW physics professor helps design instrument on Mars Perseverance rover

“As you can imagine, it’s quite a spectacular descent with a lot of things that could potentially go wrong. But luckily, fortunately, that didn’t happen,” he added. “And we’re safely on the ground, ready to do some science.”

Garan says the importance of the mission relates not only to potentially find evidence that Mars had life, but also to determine why it may no longer have that life.

“The primary goal of the mission is to look for evidence that Mars once had life, whether that’s fossilized evidence, or chemical evidence. And think about that, if we are able to basically prove that life existed at one point on Mars, that would be a spectacular discovery,” he said. “It would change everything, it would lead us to the understanding that we are not alone in the universe, and that there was a time where we had a close neighbor.”

It’s also the absence of that life that may give us lessons we can apply here on Earth.

“But I think more important than that realization — if you believe that anything could be more important than that — is if there was life on Mars, why is there not life now? The rover touched down in a crater, a crater that used to be a lake, an ancient lake,” Garan explained. “Mars at one time had water flowing across the surface, it was in a condition that could potentially support life.”

“And if we do discover life, then the question is: Where did it go, where did life go? Where did the water go? And that has profound implications for our own climate studies, for our own study of our planet’s life cycle and where we may be headed,” he said. “It could be a cautionary tale for life on Earth from our neighbor on Mars.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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How the Mars Perseverance mission could provide clues to where Earth is headed