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Garrett McKenzie

In this article by Garrett McKenzie ‘24, readers hear about NASA’s new Perseverance rover that landed on Mars on February 18. 

For decades, humans have had a profound interest in space, and specifically space travel and exploration. We have tried to answer the fundamental questions about our universe, such as how it began and whether we are alone or not, among others, that can give us a better understanding of our place in the vast depths of space. However, the road to this understanding must start closer to home. Almost as long as space travel has been an interest, scientists have had their eyes on Mars, the fourth planet in our solar system. The reason for this is simple: there is good evidence that water once existed on Mars, which is fundamental to life as we know it. This could eventually lead to more discoveries and advancements, such as being able to send people to Mars, or discovering new life. For this reason, there have been several probes and rovers sent to Mars by different countries, all trying to learn more about this strange, seemingly inhospitable world.

The most recent addition to the family of satellites and rovers exploring Mars is NASA's Perseverance Rover, which landed on Thursday, February 18, 2021. Perseverance, weighing in at one ton, is similar in design to NASA's Curiosity Rover, which has been exploring the Martian surface for almost nine years now. The Perseverance Rover will be exploring the Jezero crater, using its onboard instruments and cameras to take rock samples and show scientists the area, with its primary goal being the search for direct signs of ancient life. The rover also came equipped with a small drone named Ingenuity, which will be used to test flight conditions on Mars, and hopefully inform future exploratory campaigns.

Probably the most intense and dramatic part of the whole mission came during the landing sequence, also known as the "seven minutes of terror." During this period, scientists were unable to communicate with the robot due to radio signal delay, and had to simply hope the descent worked as planned: Upon entering the Martian atmosphere,  a giant parachute was deployed to slow the craft, along with reversed thrusters to further slow it down. From there, the rover was lowered the last little bit to the surface by cables from a support ship, with touch down being confirmed at 3:55 PM EST. 

It is planned for Perseverance to explore for the next couple of years and take samples that will eventually be collected on future missions that have yet to be scheduled. Hopefully, the rover will be able to give scientists better insight as to whether or not Mars once harbored life and pave the way for future exploration and discovery.

For more information on NASA's Perseverance Rover, click HERE.

Photo provided from IEEE Spectrum