NOVA “LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS” To Debut February 24 2021

Boston, MA; February 19, 2021 — LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS, a one-hour special from the PBS science series NOVA, a production of GBH Boston, will follow NASA’s Mars 2020 mission—perhaps the most ambitious search yet for traces of ancient life on the red planet. The special premieres Wednesday, February 24 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS and will be available for streaming online and on the PBS video app.

On February 18, a NASA spacecraft carrying the Perseverance rover blazed into the Martian atmosphere at some 12,000 miles per hour and lowered Perseverance into the rocky Jezero crater, home to a dried-up river delta scientists think could have harbored life. Now safely landed, Perseverance will comb the area for signs of life and collect samples for possible return to Earth. Some 130 million miles away, back on Earth, the mission’s thousands of scientists, researchers, and engineers watched and waited on tenterhooks—would the spacecraft to which they devoted years of work survive this crucial test? NOVA’s LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS brings viewers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at this high-stakes mission to the red planet—one that hopes to answer the age-old question “Are we alone?”

Not only have NOVA’s cameras been following the mission since May 2019, but the film will also capture the mission’s latest developments: LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS will include still images from Perseverance’s February 18 arrival on Mars, released by NASA following the landing. It will also feature footage of reactions to the landing inside NASA’s mission control and interviews with key members of the Mars 2020 mission team, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology geobiologist and Project Science Group member Tanja Bosak; Planetary Protection Engineer Moogega Cooper; System Testbed Engineer Elio Morillo; Mission Lead Diana Trujillo; and Mechanical Engineer Aaron Yazzie.

“Scientists have been searching for life on Mars for decades, from the Viking missions of the 1970s to the Curiosity rover—whose discoveries set the stage for the Mars 2020 mission,” said producer Terri Randall of Randall Productions. “Despite the enormous challenges, thousands of scientists and space explorers across the globe came together with the single goal of finding answers to a fundamental question about our place in the universe. Their commitment to discovery and exploration is incredibly inspiring, and we are excited to share it with NOVA viewers.”

LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS captures both the astounding innovation and painstaking work that has gone into making this mission possible. The film traces the remarkable development of Ingenuity, the small helicopter accompanying Perseverance that could revolutionize the future of space exploration. We also meet MOXIE, the device designed to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, in hopes that a similar system could be used to create fuel—or air for humans to breathe—on future missions. What MOXIE finds will offer crucial information about whether humans could survive on Mars.

One of the mission’s most impressive innovations is Perseverance’s one-of-a-kind sampling system, which took seven years to design, test, and build. Because the rover is not equipped to verify ancient Martian microbes, the samples it collects will have to be studied back on Earth—and any contamination could ruin the samples’ integrity. LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS takes viewers inside the mission’s clean room—the highly sterile space where a team ensures that the rover and the sampling system are free of earthly microbes: Over the course of the mission, they took 16,681 wipes, swabs, and air samples of the spacecraft and the surrounding environment.

LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS is a NOVA Production by Terri Randall Productions for GBH Boston in association with Arte France and NHK. Executive Producers for NOVA are Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt. NOVA is a production of GBH Boston. Original funding for LOOKING FOR LIFE ON MARS was provided by Draper, the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the NOVA Science Trust with support from Margaret and Will Hearst, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers.


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