NASA’s Perseverance robotic rover joined Curiosity on the surface of Mars Thursday at about 2:55 PM Central Time, carrying advanced tools to search for extinct life.
I’m safe on Mars. Perseverance will get you anywhere.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 18, 2021
“It’s an enormous undertaking that’s in front of us, and it has enormous scientific potential to really be transformative,” The New York Times quoted Kenneth Williford, a deputy project scientist on the mission, as saying during a news conference on Wednesday. “The question is, Was Mars ever a living planet?”
Many spacecraft from the US, China, and the United Arab Emirates are orbiting the planet, showing just how interested Earthlings are in our Solar System neighbor.
In the video posted by NASA, the final approach begins about 1 hour 38 minutes in. The $2.7 billion rover, which is about the size of a car but has six tires, begins tracking the terrain, followed by the priming of the landing engines. About two minutes later, Swati Mohan, the guidance and control operations lead for the mission, announces: “Touchdown confirmed!”
Engineers in masks at Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, erupted in applause.
Student newspapers previewed the landing. Gabrielle Feliciano at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, mentioned that Perseverance’s tools were more advanced than those on board Curiosity.
Addison Mark at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Florida, exclaimed that “All We Need Is Perseverance.”
“The rover carries an aluminum plate that pays tribute to health care workers around the world in light of the pandemic,” she wrote. “There is an ancient symbol of the serpent entwined around a rod to represent the global medical community. There is also a line that represents the rover’s trajectory from Florida to Mars.”
The agenda for the first 100 days includes time to check systems and find Earth in the sky, enabling communication.
During the first two months, a solar helicopter called Ingenuity will attempt to achieve aerodynamic flight. If it succeeds, that would be a first flight not on Earth. Perseverance’s cameras will make a video.
Depending on what the copter finds, the rover will move and the science team will take over.
Then the real science gets going. Soil samples will be collected, special instruments will gather information about Martian weather, and a radar will search underground for water and ice.
Perseverance will try to determine how likely it is that life ever existed on Mars and might remind us that life is fragile. If life once existed on Mars and is now extinct, most likely due to changes in the environment, such changes could happen on Earth as well.
“These types of discoveries have the ability to affect people to their core,” the Washington Post quoted Kathryn Stack Morgan, another deputy project scientist for the mission, as saying. “It becomes something you have to confront about yourself and your species and your place in the universe.”