Perseverance Rover Heads To Mars!

An Atlas V rocket carrying the Perseverance rover to Mars successfully lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida this morning at 6:50 a.m. CDT. NASA

I missed seeing the Mars launch this morning, but I have a really good excuse. I was looking at Mars in my telescope. I got up at 3 a.m., grabbed an eyeful of the Red Planet and then returned to bed but woke up a half-hour too late. Not to worry. NASA pulled it off without a hitch. When I awoke and fired up the computer, smiles on the faces of the NASA folks told the story. What a great way to start the day.

Perseverance will land the same way the Curiosity rover did back in 2012 — via parachute and sky crane.

Landing sites are shown for Perseverance, Curiosity and Opportunity. NASA

Seven months from now on Feb. 18, 2021 the Perseverance rover will descend via parachute and sky crane to the crater Jezero located in Syrtis Major, a large, thumb-shaped volcanic region in its southern hemisphere. Coincidentally it was the same feature I observed through the telescope at dawn and one of the planet’s most prominent dark markings.

An asteroid impact excavated the 30-mile-wide (49 km) crater 3.5 billion years ago. Later, Jezero filled with water and became a lake. As the Martian climate changed and the lake dried up, water deposited layers of sediments. Within those sediments may be traces of possible Martian microbes which Perseverance will assist in finding.

Jezero crater was once a lake and is now the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission to look for past life. The outlet canyon at upper right was carved by water flooding over the crater rim several billion years ago. Ancient rivers carved the inlets on the left side of the crater. NASA / Tim Goudge

Perseverance will use its drill to gather up to 30 pencil-sized core samples in sealed tubes and then cache at a desired location on the surface. A future rover mission will return to the cache, retrieve and package the tubes, then blast them into orbit with a small rocket. A waiting orbiter would maneuver to the container — the first time two spacecraft would rendezvous in Martian orbit — grab it and then set course for Earth.

This illustration shows the drone-like Mars-copter called Ingenuity that will be under the command of the Mars Perseverance rover. NASA / JPL-Caltech

During its nominal year-long mission the rover will busy itself with many tasks including serving as the command center for piloting the first-ever helicopter on Mars. Aptly named Ingenuity, the craft resembles a drone but with really fast-spinning propellers to provide the lift it requires in the thin Martian atmosphere. Although radio signals travel at the speed of light they take about a half-hour to reach Mars from Earth. That means no one can fly the machine in real time except the rover. It will command Ingenuity to areas of interest and then safely return it to home base.

Perseverance has two microphones, one mounted near the landing gear and the second on the SuperCam camera at top. The rover is 10 feet long, 7 feet high and weighs 2,260 pounds. NASA

Perseverance is also equipped with two microphones, one to tune in to the rover’s entry, descent and landing and another to listen to ambient sounds (like the wind) on Mars. Assuming all goes well this will be the first successful attempt to listen to Mars thanks in large part to efforts by the Planetary Society. Its co-founder Carl Sagan wrote a letter to NASA in 1996 urging the agency to send a microphone to Mars. I’m very excited about the opportunity to hear the planet; this new aural dimension will make Mars that much more real.

This is a closer look at the ancient river and river delta in Jezero crater where Perseverance will land. Billions of years ago when the Mars was clement water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Some of the sediments contain clays and carbonates and potentially signs of life that once may thrived there. As the planet’s core cooled it began to lose its magnetic field, which allowed the sun to slowly strip away its once-denser atmosphere. Some water left for space, some still remains on the planet but combined with rocks or stored in its poles. NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University

Perseverance also carries an experimental device called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment) which will produce oxygen from Mars’s predominately carbon dioxide atmosphere using a process called solid oxide electrolysis. This will be an important first step in producing on-site oxygen for fuel during future human missions to the planet. Naturally, the rover bristles with cameras — 23 in all — plus ground penetrating radar to study Martian geology below the surface. There are even samples of spacesuit materials that will be exposed to the weather to assist in the design of protective suits for future astronauts. One day women and men will kick up red dust 60 million miles (95 million km) from home while doing one of the things humans do best: being curious.

9 Responses

  1. Jake Skywatcher

    I’ve been starting to wonder about possible future manned missions to Mars. I presume NASA still goes to great lengths to insure these unmanned landers / rovers are sterilized. Yet a manned mission will be rife with ‘biological contamination’. Doesn’t the return to earth launch window mandate a long time at Mars, increasing the probability of an accidental release of some form of life? How does NASA reconcile the high odds of a contamination of Mars during a manned mission?

    1. Hi Jake,
      Understandable concerns. And yes, if we go to Mars, in at least one scenario, astronauts would stay at the planet for well over a year though it’s unclear if that time would be all “on the ground” or part ground and part in an orbiting spacecraft. I don’t know NASA’s plans but I’m sure the agency would work even harder to avoid human contamination vs. machine.

  2. Edward M Boll

    Plenty of time to look for Mars, now to Christmas real bright. I’m planning on a look at Neowise tonight, mag 4.9. My looks are now less frequent but I doubt that this is my last time. I even looked for Lemmon the other night to say, Good Bye.

  3. Sharon Draayer

    Hi Sir,
    I am from Albert Lea, MN.
    I read your article in Star Tribune that you have seen 400 Aurora Borealis in Minnesota.
    I haven’t had the chance and really would love to see in my lifetime.
    Appreciate if you can let me know, where can i see in Minnesota or South or North Dakota nearest to my location, when would be the best months to go as well as the darkest best places i can see them.

    Some say Cook County, Grand Marais and Lutsen, Some say Hawk Ridge, Duluth.

    Need your advice Sir.
    Thanking you in Advance.
    Sharon Draayer.

    1. Hi Sharon,
      Thank you for asking. The further north the better. North of Hinckley or north of Duluth are good places. Cook County is even better, but it’s not necessary to drive that far to see them. The bigger problem right now is that the sun is at the low end of its cycle when northern lights don’t happen very often. If there’s a good chance they’ll happen, I will always write a blog about it so you can plan a trip. Sometimes they don’t show even when they’re forecasted, so patience is required as is being in the right place at the right time.
      I’m confident you will see the aurora eventually. You’re living a state where if it’s in the forecast, there’s an excellent chance you’ll see it.

      1. Sharon

        Thank you Sir appeciate your reply very much. Thank you!!!!!

        I was planning to go to Duluth in October but would that be a good time?

        Is it near Hawk Ridge?
        I see Hinckley is 1 hr 8mins to Duluth.

        Which places in Hinckley or Duluth be the best spots? In Hinckley?

        I dont want to go so far north like Lutsen or Grand Marais but if it is where its appearing, i want to be there Sir 🙂

        Which months are the best to see them?

        Would October or November be better?
        But like you said, if its happening, your post will tell me and i will plan a trip, thank you.

        Work is going to take me to a different State further South(Nebraska in 2021).
        I really hope to see Aurora Borealis before i leave for good God willing.

        I will keep reading your blog and wait for you to point and guide me in the right direction. I really hope to see them before i leave before June 2021 or even a tad sooner.

        Thank you for your advise.
        I am reading about your moon post now.

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