NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover lands today. Here’s what to expect | NOVA



Area + FlightArea & Flight

Tuning in to the landing? Right here’s what to anticipate.

An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover touchdown safely on Mars. A whole lot of essential occasions should execute completely and precisely on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18, 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In March 2020, at an meeting held on the Lake Braddock Secondary Faculty in Burke, Virginia, Alex Mather’s classmates obtained huge information from NASA.

Mather had submitted a potential title for the Administration’s latest Mars rover, and this submission—amongst 28,000 obtained by NASA from younger area lovers—was  “Perseverance.” The evening earlier than his college meeting, he discovered his submission had been chosen.

It’s a NASA custom to have youngsters select the names of Mars rovers, Washington Submit’s KidsPost reported in March. Children have give you the previous 4: Curiosity, which landed on the crimson planet in 2012; Spirit, which landed in 2004; Alternative, which landed three weeks after Spirit; and Sojourner, which landed on the Fourth of July in 1997.

Now, at roughly 3:55 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Feb. 18, Perseverance will try probably the most difficult—and exact—Mars touchdown in NASA historical past. If all goes easily, the rover will examine Mars’ habitability in an try to find out if life ever took root on Mars. Perseverance, nicknamed “Percy” (many a scientist and science journalist has talked about having trouble spelling “Perseverance”) may also search for indicators of previous life and conduct experiments that examine the potential of human exploration.

“Perseverance is NASA’s most bold Mars rover mission but,” Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, mentioned in a Feb. 16 press launch. “…the touchdown group may have its palms full getting us to Jezero Crater – probably the most difficult Martian terrain ever focused for a touchdown.”

Jezero Crater is a 28-mile-wide hole situated on the western margin of the Isidis Planitia area in Mars’ northern hemisphere. About three billion years in the past, Jezero hosted a virtually 820-foot-deep lake, fed by a close-by historic river delta wealthy in mineral sediments. It’s the type of place scientists assume may need supported life. “I believe that must be the hands-down most enjoyable factor that this website has to supply,” Tim Goudge, a planetary scientist and postdoctoral fellow at College of Texas at Austin, advised NOVA in 2018.

Mars orbiters have already spent years accumulating data and pictures from 200 miles above Jezero. Pinpointing indicators of historic life would require a better look, nevertheless. That’s the place Perseverance, outfitted with devices that may detect natural matter and measure the composition of rocks and soil, is available in. 

However there’s a hitch: The rover and its companion, the first-ever area helicopter, named Ingenuity, had been constructed by people on Earth, and people are notoriously contaminated. “People are the dirtiest factor in that clear room” the place spacecraft meeting occurs, Moogega Cooper, astronomer and lead of planetary safety for the Mars 2020 Mission, advised NOVA producer Terri Randall. “We have now every kind of microorganisms in our physique and on our pores and skin. And so we’ve to make it possible for, from head to toe, and together with our eyes” the spacecraft is protected against human contamination, which may falsely signify life on Mars. 

However Cooper had a higher concern, introduced on by the challenges of constructing a rover and conducting a NASA mission throughout a pandemic. “What was most worrying,” she says, “was that off the clock, you would possibly catch COVID. There’s now a vector to wipe out a complete group that might fully derail the mission and throw us off of our scheduled purpose.”

Luckily, Perseverance efficiently launched on Jul. 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, it has flown greater than 290 million miles, zooming via area at 49,290 mph relative to the solar.

Percy’s 17-minute-long entry, descent, and touchdown might be broadcast on NASA tv, starting with the separation of Perseverance and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from the spacecraft’s entry capsule. Subsequent, whereas touring at roughly 12,100 mph, the spacecraft will hit the highest of the Martian environment; friction from the environment will warmth the underside of the spacecraft to temperatures as excessive as 2,370 F. Moments later, it’ll deploy its parachute at “supersonic velocity,” NASA writes in its Feb. 16 press launch. 

An aeroshell containing NASA’s Perseverance rover guides itself towards the Martian floor because it descends via the environment on this illustration. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Perseverance rover will use radar to detect how far it’s from the floor of the crimson planet and a secure touchdown website. As soon as the entry capsule absolutely separates from the rover and its “jetpack,” which is supplied with retrorockets (small auxiliary rockets fired within the course of journey to sluggish a craft down), Perseverance will contact down on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EDT.

First, it’ll pop up its head, take footage, and transmit them again to Earth. Engineers may also test on the rover’s well being throughout its first few days on its new residence planet, NASA writes in its press launch. Then, the tougher activity of figuring out indicators of life and testing expertise designed to provide oxygen from the Martian environment (in hopes that the fuel may very well be used for gasoline—or for people to breathe—on future missions) will start.

If life has existed on Mars earlier than, former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman tells NOVA, it could be an indication that extraterrestrial life is extra plentiful all through our universe than beforehand thought. However there’s additionally an opportunity that scientists don’t discover any signatures of life on the crimson planet. “And that’ll simply inform us that our one planet is so distinctive and miraculous,” geologist Tanja Bosak says. 

“Perseverance is enjoying a really essential position in our understanding of our place within the universe,” Mars rover engineer Elio Morillo tells NOVA. “And I believe that is very noble.” 

Tune in or stream “Searching for Life on Mars” on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 9/8c on PBS.



What to expect during NASA’s first-ever Ingenuity Mars helicopter flight | NOVA



House + FlightHouse & Flight

Need to fly a rotorcraft on one other planet? Right here’s what it takes.

A detailed-up of Ingenuity taken on April 5 by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

NASA has delayed the primary flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter, saying that it expects to set a brand new date subsequent week.

The helicopter, which arrived on the crimson planet tucked contained in the Perseverance rover in February, was initially set to fly on Sunday, securing its place as the primary rotorcraft to raise off on one other world. Late on Friday evening, nevertheless, a high-speed take a look at of Ingenuity’s rotors ended early: Because the helicopter’s command sequence tried to transition the flight pc from “preflight” to “flight” mode, engineers had been alerted to a possible downside. The workforce has determined to replace Ingenuity’s flight management software program earlier than making an attempt a maiden flight.

Throughout this primary flight, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter will raise off, hover 10 ft above the Martian floor, take photos, and contact again down—all in a interval of about 40 seconds. In the meantime, some 200 ft away, the Perseverance rover will snap photos and movies of its companion’s temporary voyage.

This primary flight will probably be a modest starting of a way more bold activity: Within the subsequent 30 days, the Ingenuity workforce at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will try a complete of 5 flights, every longer and extra technical than the final.

“Every world solely will get one first flight,” Ingenuity Undertaking Supervisor MiMi Aung mentioned throughout a press convention on Friday. It’s a “historic second that has analogues in 1903,” NASA’s Affiliate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen added, referring to the yr the Wright brothers grew to become the primary on the earth to fly a motor-operated airplane—after two failed liftoffs.

“Historical past tells us that Orville and Wilbur took this setback like true engineers,” confirming that their elementary understanding of flight was right and going again and making delicate adjustments, Aung mentioned throughout Friday’s press convention. Aung believes she and her workforce have grow to be equally well-versed within the distinctive challenges of flying a hovercraft on one other planet and are conscious that regardless of years of preparation, one thing might go improper when it’s time for the primary try. “I need to be conservative,” Aung mentioned on Friday, including the Ingenuity workforce had but to have a good time the Mars helicopter’s achievements.

Maybe the best problem the workforce will face is the Martian environment. Made up of principally carbon dioxide, Mars’ environment is a mere 1% as thick as our personal planet’s, which is primarily nitrogen. Its thinness makes it the equal of flying at thrice the peak of Mount Everest, Ingenuity chamber take a look at engineer Amelia Quon mentioned on Friday.

Rotorcrafts, together with helicopters, fly by producing raise. As their blades spin, they push the air and this lifts the craft up, Aung explains. In a skinny environment, she says, there are fewer molecules to push, “so you might want to spin a lot quicker to get raise,” she says. Whereas the blades of most Earthly helicopters function at round 450 to 500 revolutions per minute, Ingenuity’s will transfer at 2,400 rpm.

Ingenuity’s rotors “are usually not one thing off the shelf; they’re actually fine-tuned to maximise raise in a very skinny environment,” Aung mentioned. Weighing in at about 35 grams, the rotors have a foam core for lightweightedness and are coated in carbon fiber, specified by a grid, for optimum stiffness and power.

Like its blades, the physique of the Mars helicopter can be light-weight, at lower than 4 kilos. “We couldn’t make this occur” with know-how that existed 10 or 15 years in the past, Aung mentioned.

Mars’ robust winds additionally pose a problem. If gusts grow to be too robust earlier than Ingenuity is scheduled to fly, there’s no method of robotically suspending or canceling the flight by means of Perseverance, Ingenuity Operations Lead Tim Canham defined throughout Friday’s press convention. It’s because the Perseverance rover’s weather-determining system has no connection to Ingenuity. And Ingenuity has no solution to proper itself; if it fails to land right-side-up throughout any of its flights, its mission on Mars would finish.

However there’s excellent news: Martian climate is straightforward to foretell. “Climate on Mars tends to remain the identical over a interval of sols,” Canham explains. (At 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds, a Martian sol is barely longer than a day on Earth.) The Ingenuity workforce initially selected 12:30 p.m. Martian time Sunday, the equal of 11:00 p.m. EDT, for a possible first liftoff as a result of the workforce calculated that’s when Ingenuity would have essentially the most charged battery and Mars would have the calmest skies.

The workforce began testing in 2014 whether or not Ingenuity might efficiently fly on one other planet. We “made Mars on Earth,” Quon mentioned, referring to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s 25-foot house simulator thermal vacuum chamber, which Voyager 1 and a pair of had been examined in earlier than making their method into house and out of our photo voltaic system.

First, the workforce used a flight mannequin as an example that raise is feasible—image a few hops and a crash touchdown—in a Martian-like atmosphere. Then, in 2018, the workforce had the mannequin spin up three ft within the air and switch. In 2019, NASA scientists took information from earlier exams and utilized them to testing the precise Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

If all goes properly, throughout its first sol after taking to the sky, Ingenuity will transmit its black-and-white pictures and flight abstract information to Perseverance, which can transmit the information to scientists on Earth. Within the following days, scientists anticipate to obtain coloration imagery and extra complicated information from the flight.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen right here about 13 ft (3.9 meters) from the rover on this picture taken April 6, 2021, the forty sixth Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Canham can be keen to listen to the sound of Ingenuity’s liftoff: Perseverance is supplied with a microphone particularly designed to outlive on Mars—and seize the snaps, crackles and pops of its scorching stones. It’s potential for the microphone to seize Ingenuity’s liftoff, however given its considerably important distance (greater than 200 ft) from the helicopter, there aren’t any ensures. It’s “very contact and go on whether or not we’ll get something,” Canham mentioned on Friday. “However who is aware of.”

What’s extra sure is that Perseverance will seize its personal pictures of Ingenuity’s first flight.

Earlier than, throughout, and after Ingenuity’s 40-second airtime, Perseverance will snap six to seven pictures a second utilizing its onboard Mastcam-Z cameras, one with zoomed-in perspective and the opposite a zoomed-out perspective. (You may view pictures as they arrive in on NASA’s web site right here.)

The Ingenuity workforce expects its second flight to occur 4 days after its preliminary flight. And if that one goes properly—the objective being to have the helicopter fly as much as 15 ft—the workforce will transfer to an every-three-day flight cadence.

“We need to have enjoyable” with the fourth and fifth flights, Aung mentioned, suggesting that the workforce could enterprise at the least 150 ft out and again from the helicopter’s takeoff web site, presumably into never-before-seen territory. “That is all in regards to the future. That is all about being a pathfinder,” she mentioned, explaining that Ingenuity can inform how future house helicopters, which will probably be larger and heavier, ought to perform.

Like NASA’s first Mars rover—the modest 23-pound microwave-sized Sojourner, which touched down on the crimson planet in 1997—Ingenuity is a “tech demonstration,” defined Zurbuchen, NASA’s Affiliate Administrator for Science. Just like Sojourner’s temporary mission on Mars, Zurbuchen believes, many years from now, we’ll look again on Ingenuity’s month of flight with awe and fondness.

“Ingenuity’s month will probably be an aggressive demonstration of what it may presumably do,” he mentioned. And, teammate Elsa Jensen added, “Massive Sister”—Perseverance—“will probably be watching.”