NASA’s Perseverance rover has landed on Mars. Now its work begins. | NOVA



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Yesterday, NASA’s newest Mars rover touched down on the purple planet. Right here’s what its analysis staff says is in retailer for the mission.

A dynamic duo: On this illustration, the Mars Perseverance rover and first-ever area helicopter, Ingenuity, stand upon the Martian floor. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL/CalTech

Touchdown a rover on Mars isn’t simple. However with some perseverance, NASA finds, anything is possible.

The profitable landing of the Mars Perseverance rover yesterday at roughly 3:55 p.m. EDT marks the Administration’s fifth rover touchdown—and its most technical but—on the purple planet. 

Perseverance’s new house is the Jezero crater, a 28-mile-wide bowl that, billions of years in the past, hosted a lake, a river delta, and probably life. It’s a touchdown web site that was briefly thought of for Perseverance’s predecessor Curiosity, however shortly dominated out by the NASA staff. “The positioning was thought of too unsafe. And actually, the terrain was method too tough,” NASA engineer Al Chen, who labored on each the Perseverance and Curiosity missions, says in a NASA video. “However now we’ve got the flexibility to land at these locations that we by no means actually may go to earlier than.”

Deltas, just like the one at Jezero, the Perseverance staff believes, have a excessive probability of as soon as internet hosting life. In spite of everything, the staff posits that Jezero’s historical river delta was as soon as wealthy in mineral sediments and, as lately as 3 billion years in the past, fed into an 820-foot-deep lake. However deltas aren’t simply nice at internet hosting life, explains Katie Stack Morgan, a deputy mission scientist for the Mars 2020 mission: “They’re additionally nice locations for preserving previous life,” she says in a NASA video.

“We expect that Mars was liveable about 4 billion years in the past,” Chen provides. “So the query is not only the place was that life, but in addition, the place may or not it’s preserved for 4 extra billion years for us to seek out it.”

However for the hunt for biosignatures (natural matter trapped in Martian rocks that would point out tiny microbes as soon as flourished within the planet’s historical watery habitats) to start, Perseverance first needed to land on Mars. 

At roughly 3:38 p.m. EDT on Thursday, the spacecraft ferrying Perseverance and its companion Ingenuity—the first-ever area helicopter—started its entry into the Martian environment. So started its 17-minute descent and touchdown.

Hovering 118 miles above Mars’ floor, the craft burned via the environment at greater than 17,060 toes per second. As soon as the craft “feels” sufficient environment round it, it’ll start controlling its path, mentioned the Steering, Navigation, and Controls Operations Lead for the Mars 2020 mission Swati Mohan on NASA Reside Tv. Because the craft slowed down, a hush fell upon the staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., their eyes glued to the reside feed displayed on their laptop screens in entrance of them. 

The seven minutes of terror—a phrase utilized by Mars aficionados to explain essentially the most essential part of a rover’s entry, descent, and touchdown—had begun.

The primary picture NASA’s Perseverance rover despatched again after touching down on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The view, from one among Perseverance’s Hazard Cameras, is partially obscured by a mud cowl. Picture Credit score: NASA

The entry and touchdown is all about “getting the highest of the automobile via the environment and all the way down to the underside safely. We hit the environment, you realize, going 12—13,000 miles per hour. We’ve to deploy a supersonic parachute,” Chen says. “I labored on Curiosity for 10 years, so it is a very acquainted feeling,” Chen, who helped ferry that rover safely to Mars’ Gale Crater in 2012, provides. However “I feel I used to be actually too younger the primary time to comprehend what was at stake.”

Because it made its method via the Martian environment, Perseverance carried out financial institution reversals, essential steps to regulate its distance to its touchdown goal. The rover, nicknamed “Percy,” then handed via its most level of deceleration. 

“Sure, sure, sure,” whispered a staff member again at JPL. 

One mile above the purple planet’s floor and touring at 2,237 mph, Perseverance aligned with its touchdown goal under. It slowed to 1,230.3 mph, carried out a telemetry lock on its touchdown goal, and initiated a maneuver that gave its radar a greater glimpse of the Martian floor.

Applause erupted from the staff at JPL. 

Nonetheless at supersonic pace, Percy’s parachute deployed.

It continued its descent, now slowing all the way down to subsonic speeds—these under the sound barrier—providing its radar a fair higher take a look at the rocky terrain under. The entry capsule totally separated from the rover and its “jetpack,” geared up with retrorockets (small auxiliary rockets fired within the course of journey to gradual a craft down). Because it accomplished its terrain navigation, pinpointing a touchdown web site, Percy reached a relentless velocity and, beginning at about 65 toes above the Martian floor, the craft hooked up to the rover carried out a “sky crane” maneuver, wherein it lowered the rover to the bottom.

At 3:55 p.m. EDT, the staff receives the sign they’ve been ready for: Perseverance has touched down. Cheers and claps erupt from the management room at JPL. Some staff members share COVID-19-friendly elbow bumps.

“Oh my god. Oh.” “Whew; we acquired it.” “It’s so surreal,” they are saying.   

Perseverance’s first task was comparatively easy: snap some photos of its new residence. However within the following weeks, its work on the lookout for life will start.

“What we’re making an attempt to do is drive across the floor of this unknown planet to attempt to discover out if, in some unspecified time in the future, there was life on the floor of Mars,” aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo, who works with the robotic arms liable for amassing Martian soil samples, says in a NASA video.

We’ve two very attention-grabbing devices on Perseverance’s robotic arm, Trujillo explains. To gather and analyze samples, the rover will drill into the soil and its arm will place the devices into the ensuing holes. This can assist us perceive what the terrain consists of and whether or not there may be “some traceability of life,” she says.

However essentially the most thorough analyses, Morgan provides, will occur again on Earth. Morgan, who grew up with a love for geology, different worlds, and climbing in nationwide parks, is concerned about what every particular person sand grain has to inform us about Mars and its evolution. “We’ve capabilities in laboratories right here on Earth that we will’t match on a compact instrument on a rover,” she explains.

The Perseverance mission will even check know-how designed to supply oxygen from the Martian environment. Researchers hope that the gasoline might be used for gasoline, or for people to breathe, on future missions, like NASA Artemis.

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity, although merely an illustration that such a craft can fly over one other planet for the primary time, additionally has its work minimize out for it. “We’ve a sequence of main milestones between now and Ingenuity’s [first] flight,” Ingenuity’s mission supervisor MiMi Aung mentioned on Thursday throughout the descent on NASA Reside Tv. “Surviving the primary frigid evening on Mars shall be a significant milestone.” And when Ingenuity does take flight, it goals to take the first-ever coloration photographs of Mars from an aerial standpoint. “They’ll simply be icing on the cake,” Aung mentioned.

Already, a sense of pleasure and success—and, nicely, perseverance—is clear among the many Mars 2020 researchers.

“I really feel like such a fortunate individual to be engaged on this,” Trujillo says. “I used to be born and raised in Colombia. There was loads of violence happening in my nation, so for me, wanting up on the sky and looking out on the stars was my protected place.”

Tune in or stream “In search of Life on Mars” on Wednesday, February 24 at 9/8c on PBS.



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