[Updated Feb. 19 to reflect Perseverance and Ingenuity’s successful landing] Mars became a fair bit busier this month, with no less than three missions—each from a different country—having arrived at the red planet over the past few weeks. The UAE’s Al-Amal and China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft entered orbit earlier in February, and NASA’s Mars 2020
A lucky accident aboard the Curiosity Rover has confirmed that there is life on Mars. A life-detection experiment conducted by the Viking lander in 1976 generated a pattern of responses that fulfilled criteria for the presence of life on the planet, but the results were dismissed by JPL experts. Over the years that followed, this conclusion came into serious question, and a paper published in the International Journal of Aeronautical and Space Sciences in March of 2012 presented convincing evidence that the earlier analysis of the data was flawed. Now the leak in Curiosity’s wet chemistry test has confirmed the presence of gasses that can only be created by living organisms.
If the Mars rover Curiosity finds carbon-based molecules in the Martian soil, researcher Gilbert Levin will feel vindicated, since he promulgated the theory that life on Earth was seeded by an asteroid from Mars 36 years ago.
A Titan/Centaur vehicle was sent to Mars on August 20, 1975 and picked up a soil sample there. Levin mixed the Martian soil with a nutrient containing radioactive carbon.
The Curiosity lander has successfully reached the surface of Mars and appears to be intact. Images began appearing at 10:40 PM PDT. Curiosity is the most complex automated space mission every attempted by mankind.
The craft’s descent-stage retrorockets fired as it descended, slowing its approach to the surface. In the most difficult part of the landing, nylon cords lowered the rover to the ground in the "sky crane" maneuver. When the spacecraft sensed touchdown, the connecting cords were severed, and the descent stage flew out of the way. The landing took place at about three o’clock in the afternoon Mars time at the landing site, and 10:31 PM PDT at JPL mission control.