The Perseverance rover on Mars as imagined by an artist.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series that explores the red planet.

NASA Perseverance rover hopes to answer our biggest burning question about the history of Mars: The red planet once housed life?

The dry and dusty Mars we know today was very different in the deep past. Humanity’s latest rover is creating a guideline for an area of ​​Mars that was once the home of a lake, a perfect place to look for signs of ancient microbes.

From Sojourner in 1997, NASA sent a series of increasingly sophisticated wheeled explorers to Mars. Perseverance is the last and greatest and, in July 2020, launches into an epic journey through space.

On a mission

Perseverance will do much more than take wonderful pictures of Mars. These are some of the key objectives of the mission:

  • Look for signs of ancient microbial life.
  • Collect samples of Martian rocks and dust for later return to Earth.
  • Deliver an experimental helicopter.
  • Study the climate and geology of Mars.
  • Demonstrate technology for future missions to Mars.

The mission is expected to last at least a year on Mars, which lasts about 687 days on Earth (takes longer for Mars to go around the sun). However, NASA has good experience with extending its robotic missions to Mars. We can consider long-lasting Opportunity and Curiosity rovers as models for this.


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Lunch time

After a series of delays, Perseverance is now slated to launch no earlier than July 30th. NASA has pushed the event back several times since its original July 17th date. Delays are not yet a problem since the launch period will last until August 15th. NASA will stream the sender of the rover in streaming.

When: July 30
Where is it: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Rocket: United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V

The window is important “Due to the relative positions of the Earth and Mars between them, launch opportunities only come every 26 months” NASA said in a June 2020 release. Missing this window would mean that NASA should wait until September 2022 for its next hit. The space agency will do everything possible to ensure that Perseverance decides on time.

Hi Mars

NASA has performed extensive tests of the parachute system that will lower perseverance on Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

As long as the rover starts within the designated time period, it will have the same arrival date: February 18, 2021. The landing process will include some of the most heartbreaking minutes of the entire mission.

Perseverance will try a new method that NASA hopes to deliver as close as possible to its targeted landing site. NASA calls this technique “Range Trigger” and it’s about distributing parachutes at exactly the right time.

“If the ship was going to overtake the landing target, the parachute would have been deployed earlier ” said NASA. “If it didn’t reach the target, the parachute would be deployed later, after the spacecraft flew a little closer to the target.”

Earth observers can expect an unprecedented view of the entrance, descent and landing process. The mission is equipped with cameras and a microphone to capture all the excitement and stress as NASA attempts to gently land Perseverance on the surface of Mars.

Jezero crater

This image of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbit shows the delta region of the Jezero crater.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / JHU-APL

Jezero crater it is located just north of the equator of Mars and was once the home of a river delta. That history of water makes it a prime spot for looking for signs of past microbial life. It looks like the perfect landing place for a science lab on wheels.

“The Jezero crater landing site offers geologically rich terrain, with morphologies dating back 3.6 billion years and which could potentially answer important questions about planetary evolution and astronomy”, said Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA when the site was announced in 2018.

Vital statistics

The car-sized Perseverance rover looks fairly similar to its predecessor, Curiosity, but it also represents some technological advancements since Curiosity was designed. Here are the numbers:

Length: 10 feet (3 meters)
Weight: 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms)
Wheels: Six aluminum wheels with titanium spokes
Maximum speed: Just under 0.1 miles per hour (152 meters per hour)

Scientific instruments

The Perseverance rover is stocked with tools that it will use to investigate the Jezero crater on Mars.

NASA

Perseverance is loaded with seven tools chosen to help him achieve his mission objectives. can get the full rundown from NASA, but here are some highlights:

MastCam-Z: The camera system mounted on the rover mast equals the eyes on a head. According to NASA, its main task is “to capture high definition videos, panoramic colors and 3D images of the Martian surface and characteristics in the atmosphere with a zoom lens to enlarge distant targets”. The mastcam will be our main viewing window on the Jezero crater.

MOXIE: The Mars in situ oxygen resource utilization experiment it is one of the ways that perseverance helps prepare humans to go to Mars. This tool is designed to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide atmosphere. This ability will be needed to help future human explorers breathe, but it would also help us create rocket propellants directly on site. This is a necessary step to bring our astronauts back to Mars on Earth after their missions.

SuperCam: When you put a camera, laser and spectrometer together, you get it SuperCam, a tool that will help to search for organic compounds, a fundamental part of the search for signs of past microbial life. “It can identify the chemical and mineral composition of targets as small as a pencil tip from a distance of more than 7 meters,” said NASA.

Sherloc: “Scanning Habitable environments with Raman and luminescence for organic and chemical products” or Sherloc, as the instrument is affectionately known, will look for signs of life on the red planet. The instrument and its companion camera (nicknamed Watson) are capable of acquiring microscopic images of Mars and analyzing them. Equipped with a laser that can shoot on the surface, Sherloc is able to measure the chemicals present in the soil and in the rock using a technique known as spectroscopy.

Helicopter on board

NASA Mars helicopter team connects a piece to the flight model in early 2019.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

“Let’s send a helicopter to Mars” might seem a little far-fetched, but NASA is doing it anyway. ingenuity, a small helicopter designed to operate in the difficult conditions of the red planet, is all hidden in the belly of the rover, where it will travel.

Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-yield technological demonstration. It will remain under the rover for a few months until NASA finds a suitable place to deploy it. Perseverance will drop him on the Martian surface and then move away.

The helicopter will make its first attempt at powered flight to another planet. NASA hopes that naivety will rise and become a model for a new way of investigating other worlds.

Watch this video for more information on how this little helicopter could change the way we approach space exploration.


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By uniting his brothers

NASA currently has two machines operating on the surface of Mars, the stationary Intuition lander and the rover on Mars Curiosity. InSight is located in a region called Elysium Planitia, a large area of ​​the plain. Curiosity revolves around the Gale crater, a giant moat with a massive mountain inside. Perseverance will explore a very different part of the planet as NASA’s legacy continues to explore Mars.

The last time we had two working rovers on Mars was in 2018, when the Opportunity rover has lost contact with home due to the impact of a global dust storm. Perseverance will not have the same Opportunity problems. Like Curiosity, it uses a nuclear power source that doesn’t require sunlight to keep it going.

‘Explore as one’

This plaque contains the names of nearly 11 million people and bears a coded message.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Perseverance will be very far from Earth, but it will bring touching memories of his home planet. Over 10.9 million people have signed up to travel their names with the rover through NASA’s Send Your Name to Mars public awareness program. The names are engraved on small silicon chips that NASA installed on the rover on an aluminum plate under a protective shield.

The plate also bears an illustration of the Earth, our sun and Mars. It is hidden in the rays of the sun the “explore as one” message, written in Morse code.

A separate aluminum plate pays homage to healthcare professionals and their efforts to help humanity during the coronavirus pandemic. This plate features an illustration of a snake wrapped around a pole with the Earth on top.

These names and messages remind us that NASA’s robotic explorers never travel alone. Perseverance is the culmination of years of NASA’s efforts, but it is also an emissary for humanity, an extension of our curiosity and sense of wonder and some Earth on Mars.

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