Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars 

By Cassandra Ratkevich

Cheers erupted inside the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Southern California on Thursday, February 18th, 2021. At 3:55 p.m. EST, NASA’s Perseverance Rover made history by touching down in Jezero Crater after an almost six-month journey through outer space. 

 

The landing comes nine years after NASA’s last rover, Curiosity, reached the surface of Mars. Curiosity is still fully functional today — searching for environmental evidence for whether the surface of Mars could have ever supported microbes. Perseverance surpasses the former rover in technological features. 

 

Perseverance is equipped with 23 total cameras — six more than Curiosity. Its imaging cameras captured the descent and touchdown of the rover in full-color video. Along with cameras, the rover has two built-in microphones — one of which made history by providing the first audio recording from Mars. 

 

Equally as historic, Perseverance carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which made it to Mars attached to the rover's underside. Ingenuity does not hold any scientific instruments and was instead sent to Mars to test if a power-controlled flight could be conducted in Mars' rarefied atmosphere — which is only 1% as thick as Earth's.

 

After spending 30 to 60 Earth-days fastened to Perseverance, Ingenuity will have a 31 Earth-day window where it will attempt to perform up to five experimental flight tests. If successful, it would become the first helicopter to hover off of the surface of Mars. 

 

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), is another instrument carried by Perseverance. MOXIE is a device that converts air in the Martian atmosphere into breathable oxygen gas. Plans to establish human settlements on Mars are dependent on the success of this instrument.

 

Creating the technology that powers creations like MOXIE, Ingenuity, and Perseverance is no easy task and takes several years to ensure success. The first announcement of the Perseverance Rover Mission was made in 2012 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. From there, Perseverance followed a nine-year path of pre-launch activities, from NASA announcing the selection of the scientific instruments on July 31, 2014, to arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in February 2020 for assembly in preparation for launch.

 

Perseverance left for Mars on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Carrying the rover was one of the largest rockets available for interplanetary flight: the Atlas V-541 rocket. The rocket was provided by United Launch Alliance, a spacecraft launch vehicle supplier for NASA.

 

Now on Mars, Perseverance’s second journey has just begun. The rover will methodically examine its landing site, the Jezero Crater, to search for signs of ancient microbial life, as outlined in its mission goal. This includes accomplishing the mission's four main science objectives: “geology, astrobiology, sample caching, and prepare for humans.” With these objectives in mind, the rover will be collecting and studying rocks in its landscapes to determine if the area was ever suitable for life and whether it could sustain human life in the future. 

 

Rovers like Perseverance are the first step in getting humans to Mars, as they evaluate the surface to inform scientists of the planet’s realities. As NASA continues to advance Martian technologies, including high-tech Martian spacesuits and laser communications, the space agency has hopes of sending a crewed Mars mission as early as the 2030s.