The Mission to Mars — it’s the ‘holy grail’ of travel within our solar system. How do we get people to it? What does finding water mean for the planet? Could there be living organisms on Mars? These questions inspire scientists and writers and everyday men and women. Mars fascinates people in the way the first lunar landing captivated millions. The lunar landing answered the question we now ask about the Red Planet: if we can land humans there, what will we find?
One place dedicated to answering these questions (and digging up more questions at the same time) is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Derek Muller of Veritasium toured the facility as part of Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix. Veritasium recently posted the segment and Muller’s additional analysis on its YouTube channel for some thought-provoking discussion. The Mars 2020 project will send a new rover to the Red Planet. Its express mission is one similar to its predecessors — finding signs of life. Several experts don’t think the rover will find currently living organisms. However, the hope is that by observing Mars, we can gain a better understanding of what happened in the early stages of life on Earth.
If the first half of the video doesn’t quite feel like a Veritasium clip, start at about 3 minutes in. Muller provides his signature analysis of the Mars project. He also gives a brief history of other rovers like Viking 1 and Curiosity. One of the most exciting bits of upcoming Mars analysis is PIXL technology. It uses x-ray spectrometry to detect chemical elements. That mineral analysis could show the chemically layered structures that make up the Red Planet. Those structures could then tell researchers more about what (if anything) used to live on the planet.
Muller even taps into the ethical discussions around planetary protection. In short, it’s making sure humans aren’t introducing any life from earth to Mars explorations. It includes sterilizing the rovers consistently and also making sure not to land them close to water-containing locales. For some, this might seem like a bit of ‘overkill,’ especially given attempts to ‘replant’ humanity on Mars one day.