The Mars Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars on Feb. 18 after traveling 293 million miles to the red planet.
Called the most advanced rover NASA has ever sent to another planet, the rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 30 of last year. The mission is the first to collect samples from Mars and send them back to Earth.
“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States and space exploration globally — when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA administrator. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”
The rover, which weighs about 2,263 lb, will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins a two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. The rover will investigate rock and sediment of the lakebed in the Jezero region as well as a river delta to characterize the geology and past climate. Under the Mars Sample Return campaign, samples will be collected and then sent back to Earth for studying signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to Mars.
The Jezero Crater is some 28 miles wide and sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. NASA has determined that about 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta that was filled with water.
The rover comes equipped with seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars and a sample caching system to scour for fossilized remains of ancient microscopic Martian life.
“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “While we’ll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harbored life.”
Instruments on board
On the surface of the Perseverance is the Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable science cameras on Perseverance’s remote sensing mast to create high-resolution, color 3D panoramas of the Martian landscape. The rover also includes the SuperCam, which uses pulsed laser to study the chemistry of rocks and sediment and has its own microphone to help scientists better understand rocks’ properties.
The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instruments will work together to collect data on the geology of Mars. PIXL uses an x-ray beam and suite of sensors to delve into a rock’s elemental chemistry. SHERLOC’s ultraviolet laser and spectrometer will study rock surfaces and map out the presence of certain minerals and organic molecules.
On the rover’s chassis includes three science instruments, such as the Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAC), which is the first ground penetrating radar on the surface of Mars, that pave the way for future sensors to hunt for subsurface water ice deposits.
The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilizations Experiment (MOXIE) technology will attempt to manufacture oxygen out of the Martian air and the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instruments will provide key information about Mar’s weather, climate and dust in the present day.
On the belly of the Perseverance, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
“Perseverance is more than a rover, and more than this amazing collection of men and women that built it and got us here,” said John McNamee, project manager of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. “It is even more than the 10.9 million people who signed up to be part of our mission. This mission is about what humans can achieve when they persevere. We made it this far. Now, watch us go.”