On Feb 18, Perseverance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s fifth robotic rover, successfully touched down on the dusty red surface of Mars.
“Touchdown confirmed,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission control said. “Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the sands of past life.”
Perseverance is the most advanced astrobiology laboratory to have come out of NASA and spent almost seven months crossing 293 miles. The robot then entered Mars’ atmosphere at 12,000 mph before it made its self-guided descent and landing, a period of time called “the seven minutes of terror” due to the intricate series of maneuvers it took to safely land.
The landing spot is called Jezero Crater and is believed to have once been a body of water roughly the size of Lake Tahoe. Many believe that due to the similarities between Earth’s atmosphere and Mars’s atmosphere, that life once existed on the planet and the scientists at NASA hope this mission will help them expand on that theory.
“Of all the steps needed to develop life, how many occurred on Mars? This [mission] tells us not only about whether we’re alone in the solar system but also about how likely we are to find life in the thousands of other planets being discovered around other suns – so [it] has truly cosmic implications,” said Colin Wilson, a physicist at Oxford University.
The nuclear powered robot weighs a total of one ton and is 10 feet long by nine feet wide by seven feet tall. Attached to the robot is a seven-foot-long arm that has a camera, chemical analyzer and a rock drill.
Atop of Perseverance is Ingenuity, a small helicopter, which will become the first ever powered controlled flight on another planet.
Alongside the many scientific instruments Perseverance carries is a plate to honor the COVID-19 healthcare workers. Over 10.9 million names are scribed onto three silicon chips, as well as the words “Explore as one” in Morse code.
Perseverance will spend one Martian year—687 earth days—exploring the Red Planet and collecting samples of geology that it will one day return to Earth for scientists to observe. Perseverance will travel up to 650 feet per Martian day, which is the most any rover sent to Mars has ever driven before.
“Perseverance is the first rover to bring a sample caching system to Mars that will package promising samples for return to Earth by a future mission,” NASA said in a press release. “Rather than pulverizing rock the way Curiosity’s drill does, Perseverance’s drill will cut intact rock cores that are about the size of a piece of chalk and will place them in sample tubes that it will store until the rover reaches an appropriate drop-off location on Mars.”