Kim Tsuyuki
Arts & Entertainment Editor

On Feb. 18, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover successfully landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars. 

Perseverance is the first rover to land on Mars since 2012, and is the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another planet. The rover’s mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.” It is car-sized — about ten feet long and nine feet wide. The mast is seven feet tall, but weighs less than a compact car (the rover is around 2,260 pounds). The scientific instruments that make up Perseverance come from all over the world; some were created from as close as Pasadena, Calif., however.

Perseverance was built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located in Pasadena, which is where the mission is led. It was at this laboratory that Perseverance was equipped with high-tech details like PIXL, the X-ray spectrometer that identifies chemical elements on a tiny scale located on the rover’s arm. On the NASA site for PIXL, Principal Investigator Abigail Allwood said, “If you are looking for signs of ancient life, you want to look at a small scale and get detailed information about chemical elements present.” Also located on the rover’s arm is SHERLOC, a combination of cameras, spectrometers, and a laser to look for organics and minerals that could have been changed by water, and to search for signs of past microbial life. Accompanying SHERLOC is WATSON, a color camera that can take up-close photos of rock textures. On SHERLOC’s NASA site, Luther Beegle, the principal investigator for the project, said, “Key, driving questions are whether Mars is or was ever inhabited, and, if not, why not? The SHERLOC investigation will advance the understanding of Martian geologic history and identify its past biologic potential.” 

There are many other instruments that make up Perseverance. Mastcam-Z, led by Jim Bell of Arizona State University, is an advanced camera that can take 3D pictures and videos. MEDA, led by Jose A. Rodriguez Manfredi of Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Spain, takes weather and dust measurements,.MOXIE, led by Michael Hecht of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, produces oxygen out of the Martian atmosphere. RIMFAX, led by Svein-Erik Hamran of University of Oslo in Norway, uses radar waves to look at geological features under the ground. SuperCam, led by Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, will be used to search for organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. 

Photo courtesy of NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

The rover is still in the process of getting set up on Mars, with the first 100 days being the most important. During those days, the rover will confirm its location, check to make sure all of the instruments are working, transition from its landing software to the software needed to operate on the surface, and perform a test drive. The earliest Perseverance can start its primary mission is on Martian day 60; the latest would be Martian day 100. 

All of these instruments were made to explore the landing site of Jezero Crater. It is believed that the crater, which has a fan-shaped delta, was once flooded with water and fed by a river. According to NASA, “Scientists see evidence that water carried clay minerals from the surrounding area into the crater lake. Conceivably, microbial life could have lived in Jezero during one or more of these wet times.” Thus, Jezero was chosen to be examined in hopes of finding signs of past microbial life and to collect rock core samples on Mars.

A unique feature about the Perseverance mission was the creation of Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter. It is attached to the rover and, once a suitable location is chosen, Ingenuity will fly a series of test flights over a span of 30 Martian days. This is a major milestone, as this will be the first powered flight in Mars’ thin atmosphere.

Despite hindrances in operation due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA and Perseverance’s mission control team still celebrated this iconic landing. The deputy manager of Perseverance, Matt Wallace, said, “I don’t think that [COVID-19] is going to be able to stop us from jumping up and down and fist-bumping. You’re going to see a lot of happy people no matter what, once we get this thing on the surface safely.”

Perseverance has been years of hard work, and, when it landed, the wait was prolonged during a seven-minute period where mission control cannot receive signals from the rover, due to the distance between Mars and Earth. This period of time is also known as the ‘seven minutes of terror.’ The rover hit the Martian atmosphere at almost 12,000 miles per hour, faster than radio signals can transmit. The rover was protected by a heat shield as it made its descent. A parachute deployed at an altitude of one mile, and a crane lowered the rover onto the Martian surface. Shortly after landing, Perseverance sent NASA its first black-and-white photo of Mars. Another historic image was also documented by the journey, which had never been seen before: what it looks like to land a rover on Mars. The image was taken during Perseverance’s descent stage, which lowered Perseverance on Mars’ surface during the sky crane maneuver; a video of the event was released on Feb. 22. On Feb. 23, Perseverance’s first full-color image was released, and, on Feb. 24, Perseverance’s first high-definition, 360-degree image using the Mastcam-Z was released.

Photo courtesy of NASA/ JPL/ Caltech/ MSSS/ ASU.

During a depressing period of news, largely due to the coronavirus (though things are starting to look up), Perseverance brings good news, which shows us that, with hope, determination, and a little ingenuity, amazing things can be accomplished. If you would like to follow along on Perseverance’s journey on Mars, you can follow its Twitter account @NASAPersevere or keep up with updates from the Mars 2020 website.

 

Featured Image: Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech

Author

  • Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

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