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History in the Making: Another Martian Touchdown for the Mankind

Previously published Mar 17. 2021

Previously published Mar 17. 2021

“Touchdown confirmed; Perseverance has safely landed on the surface of Mars.” On February 18th, 2021, these words were announced to the jubilant cheers of NASA scientists, Americans, and people around the world as they watched the arrival of the fifth rover ever to grace the surface of the red planet.

The Perseverance rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Complex 41 on a balmy July 30, 2020. Its main mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith for a possible return to Earth”, according to the NASA Perseverance mission page. The Perseverance rover features Mastcam-Z, a camera system with panoramic, stereoscopic, and mineralogic features, SuperCam, which can provide chemical composition analysis – and much more – for its trek across the surface of Mars in search of signs for life. Perseverance’s baseline power system is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator that uses the heat of Plutonium-238 decay to generate electricity; the MMRTG system is expected to keep the rover powered for about fourteen years.

One of the most striking features about this rover, however, is its landing technology. The rover features a range trigger, which determines when the parachutes should open, terrain-relative navigation, which helps avoid hazardous terrain, and an advanced aeroshell sensor package that records in high resolution the landing of the spacecraft. Most notably, the Perseverance rover uses the sky crane maneuver, similar to its predecessor, Curiosity. This maneuver, engineered by NASA scientist Adam Steltzner, lowers the rover onto the surface by cables. According to him and the other NASA engineers, it was a much better alternative to accommodate the heaviness of these newest rovers compared to the much lighter Sojourner, Opportunity, and Spirit rovers, which had landed by airbags. Live video footage from the advanced aeroshell sensor package recorded the rover as it was lowered onto Jezero Crater. The rover also features a small helicopter craft called Ingenuity, which is designed to test flight in the Martian atmosphere.

Prior to Perseverance, four other rovers in NASA’s fleet had been launched and safely landed on Mars; all five of them had the mission to scour the red planet’s surface for signs of life. The first rover, Sojourner, launched in December of 1996, followed by the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which launched in July of 2003. Curiosity, the most recent rover to land on Mars before Perseverance, was sent to determine whether or not Mars contained the right environment for microbial development. After collecting samples, telltale of past habitable environments on the red planet, NASA scientists began to develop Perseverance to scour those areas and analyze more rock samples for ancient life signs.

After its touchdown on Mars, Perseverance is set to operate on the surface scouring for rocks that contain evidence supporting life in the past and testing the ability of the atmosphere to produce oxygen for future human expeditions in the span of 687 days, or one Martian year. NASA has listed its four core objectives as follows:

  • Objective A: Find rocks that formed in, or were altered by, environments that could have supported microbial life in Mars’ ancient past.
  • Objective B: Find rocks capable of preserving chemical traces of ancient life (biosignatures), if any existed.
  • Objective C: Drill core samples from about 30 promising rock and “soil” (regolith) targets and catch them on the Martian surface.
  • Objective D: Test the ability to produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-filled Martian atmosphere, in support of future human missions.

We will be keeping periodic correspondence with the rover’s investigations as it traverses through the terrain of Mars. In the meantime, please enjoy some of Perseverance’s pictures of Mars:

Perseverance’s first image on Mars








High-resolution shot of Perseverance landing 








Octavia E. Butler Landing, as seen by Perseverance.








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Jackie Li, Features & Art Editor

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