The planet Mars has been the one other neighboring celestial body after the moon which space programs from countries on Earth have focused exploratory attempts, if they have the capacity. Over the decades there have been numerous missions to the Red Planet, from space probes performing flybys, to orbiters keeping regular vigilance above, to landers that would actually alight on a fixed spot of the surface to probe, and finally rovers that can move around to examine more. There have been failures and successes, and the latter is almost always celebrated, much like what happened in NASA following Thursday’s triumph.
By that we mean the successful touchdown of Perseverance, the latest rover probe to be sent to explore Mars. Launched on the penultimate day of January, it successfully landed at its specific destination on the Jezero Crater this February 18 as told by The Verge. From there it will commence a new journey to look for possible signs that life existed on the Red Planet long ago. So long as its power source holds out and no significant damage was sustained, the Perseverance probe could be at this mission for NASA for several years on.
“Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” announced Swati Mohan, speaking for NASA’s Entry, Descent and Landing team. They had the key duty of seeing the rover, in its re-entry shell, all through the “seven minutes of terror” period wherein it penetrated the Martian atmosphere at speeds of 12,100 miles per hour, before a parachute and six rocket thrusters slowed it down. Stopping to hover 66 feet from the red surface of Jezero Crater, the descent stage then lowered Perseverance by cables, which the rover then cut off upon landing.
Designed and built at a cost of about $2.7 billion, Perseverance is a mobile laboratory about the size of an SUV, kitted with laser-beam cameras to analyze Martian rocks, soil sample collector, a machine that will attempt to create Oxygen (O2) from the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and even a solar-powered helicopter probe named Ingenuity, to test the first ever powered flight on a planet outside of Earth. Considered for the future is a sample return mission, where a spacecraft from the European Space Agency (ESA) that could be launched in 2026 will travel to Mars to pick up Perseverance’s Martian soil samples. All this looks forward to an optimistic timetable where manned space missions could ultimately go to Mars by the 2030s.
Image courtesy of NASA