On Thursday afternoon, NASA’s Mars 2020/Perseverance Rover completed its 292.5 million-mile journey to the Red Planet with a successful landing on the Jezero Crater on Mars in a dried up lake bed. This was a mission that began with a successful launch on July 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, FL.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 18, 2021
According to NASA, once at the top of the Red Planet’s atmosphere, this car-sized rover will undergo an action-packed seven minutes of descent. This will include temperatures equivalent to the surface of the Sun, a supersonic parachute inflation, and the first ever autonomous guided landing on Mars. Each step was completed successfully, ending with a touchdown on the surface and pictures twelve minutes later.
This is the first time a rover will land on Mars since back in 2012 when Curiosity successfully began it’s exploration of the Red Planet. It ia also the first mission going to any other planet looking for signs of life.
“NASA has been exploring Mars since Mariner 4 performed a flyby in July of 1965, with two more flybys, seven successful orbiters, and eight landers since then,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Perseverance, which was built from the collective knowledge gleaned from such trailblazers, has the opportunity to not only expand our knowledge of the Red Planet, but to investigate one of the most important and exciting questions of humanity about the origin of life both on Earth and also on other planets.”
Stay for the view 📸
Designed to image rocks a few meters away, I've turned the Remote Microscopic Imager in my ChemCam instrument from microscope to telescope and spied the wall of Gale Crater, 59 km away. See the massive mosaic in laser vision: https://t.co/U3MJj9Ccf8 #PewPew pic.twitter.com/byI0TGuJ43
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) December 21, 2020
It was not an easy task despite being our largest and most technologically advanced rover that’s ever been built — there were many challenges to overcome.
“When we enter the atmosphere, we have to enter it at just the right angle, too much or too little and we burn up,” said Farah Alibay, an engineer for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. “Then we have to deploy our parachute at just the right time. And then we actually have a jet pack that slows us down the rest of the way and we need that. The atmosphere is not enough to slow us down. So we get all the way down and then the jet pack slowly lowers us on the ropes, cuts off the ropes, and then we’re on the surface of Mars, sort of wheels down! And that whole period takes seven minutes and it’s fully automated.”
The spacecraft itself also has a special thermal protection system that takes a few years to design for it’s descent into Mars’ environment called an aeroshell.
“The aeroshell is like a capsule that protects what we call the descent stage as it enters the Martian atmosphere,” said Dave Scholz, principal engineer at Lockheed Martin for the Mars 2020 Aeroshell. “We will see a lot of heat and pressure as we enter the atmosphere and of course the rover in the descent stage wouldn’t be able to survive that kind of environment so the aeroshell is there to protect it.”
**COUNTDOWN TO MARS!** This is it, less than 24 hours until @NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover begins it's descent to land on the Red Planet! While we are just as excited for this historic moment, a lot went into preparing for it. LEARN MORE: https://t.co/em3LoLtTcQ #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/VPHsHVI24u
— WeatherNation (@WeatherNation) February 17, 2021
After landing, this “six-wheeled robotic geologist” will be able to self navigate and travel up to 200 meters (0.1 miles) a day on a planet with an average temperature of -60° F. Perseverance will be on a mission to help us learn more about the planet (including it’s weather and climate!) and answer questions about the existence of life beyond ours. It’s duties will include looking for any signs of ancient life as well as obtaining samples of both rock and soil from the Red Planet to bring back to Earth.
"Perseverance is the very first rover designed to seek signs of past microbial life, by collecting and caching rock & soil samples that will be returned to Earth by future missions." – Planetary Science director Lori Glaze describes the work @NASAPersevere will perform on Mars. pic.twitter.com/Sj3M0VH5us
— NASA (@NASA) January 27, 2021
Perseverance will not be alone on this journey, it has a four pound sidekick helicopter named Ingenuity! This will be the first-ever attempt by NASA to power an aircraft to take flight on another planet.
One interesting fact about the landing? The signal from Perseverance was a delayed feed and not in real time! “The time that it takes for the signal to get from here to Mars right now is about twelve minutes even though it’s going at the speed of light, Mars is just that far,” Alibay explained. “When we get tomorrow (Thursday) those signals saying that Perseverance has entered the atmosphere, that signal is actually twelve minutes old. So think about that as you’re watching the landing, that in real life Perseverance is actually on Mars. The engineers are actually going to be watching telemetry and have some indications that the rover has landed, the rover is stable. You want to hear the magic words ‘touchdown confirmed’.”
WATCH BELOW: Overview of NASA’s Mars 2020/Perseverance Rover Mission
For WeatherNation, I’m Meteorologist Meredith Garofalo