After a pretty impressive start on Mars that included NASA's Perseverance rover deploying a small robotic, coaxial helicopter called Ingenuity, the rover is beginning a 3-mile road trip across the Red Planet to search for signs of life, according to NASA JPL.
Since Perseverance landed on Mars in February, it's taken tens of thousands of images, and its microphones have picked up sounds from the planet. Ingenuity has seven successful flights under its belt, testing if its aeronautical design can survive the planet's thin atmosphere.
Now Perseverance is on the move, set to explore the Jezero Crater to begin its primary science mission. The rover is searching for signs of ancient microbial life in the dried-up seabed.
"The science goals of the mission are to study the Jezero region in order to understand the geology and past habitability of the environment in the area, and to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. The team will identify and collect the most compelling rock and sediment samples, which a future mission could retrieve and bring back to Earth for more detailed study. Perseverance will also take measurements and test technologies to support future human and robotic exploration of Mars," NASA JPL said.
"We are putting the rover's commissioning phase as well as the landing site in our rearview mirror and hitting the road," said Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at NASA's JPL. "Over the next several months, Perseverance will be exploring a 1.5-square-mile [4-square-kilometer] patch of the crater floor. It is from this location that the first samples from another planet will be collected for return to Earth by a future mission."
The mission's goal is to collect sediment samples in a location that NASA researchers determine is rich in the environment and geologic history.
"Starting with the Crater Floor Fractured Rough and Seitah geologic units allows us to start our exploration of Jezero at the very beginning," said JPL's Kevin Hand. "This area was under at least 100 meters [328 feet] of water 3.8 billion years ago. We don't know what stories the rocks and layered outcrops will tell us, but we're excited to get started."
There will be additional missions after Jezero Crater. The rover will then traverse the rocky surface to an ancient river delta that flowed into the crater.
Perseverance's missions to search for ancient life, minerals, among other things, will collect data vital for future missions. Eventually, private industry will mine the planet for rare metals in the next decade or so. But before that, miners will tap the moon first.