NASA is preparing to send its latest robotic explorer to Mars, and this mission is packed with a number of exciting firsts that will surely lead to fascinating discoveries about the Red Planet.
The goal of the rover named Perseverance is to look for clues of ancient life on Mars. These clues may help scientists understand the history of the planet, which is hypothesized to have once been a wet, habitable world. The rover will also collect Martian samples, stowing them away for a future return to Earth.
On Thursday, the mission for NASA's Perseverance rover will have officially begun. The launch window opens at 7:50 a.m. Eastern, as an Atlas V rocket prepares to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Before we wave goodbye to the rover as it sets off on its journey to Mars, here is all the information you need to know about the mission and the interesting tidbits that make Perseverance truly unique.
- The name Perseverance was chosen by a seventh grader named Alexander Mather, who won a nationwide contest held by NASA to name the 2020 rover.
- Perseverance needs to take off within the launch window of July 30-August 15, otherwise, NASA will have to wait until September 2022 to try again.
- Perseverance is currently the only mission with "orbital constraint," meaning that its launch to Mars depends on planetary alignment between Earth and Mars, which takes place during three crucial weeks every 26 months.
- Although it is launching in the summer, Perseverance will make the 64-million-mile journey to Mars in about six months and will land on the Red Planet in February 2021.
- NASA previously sent three rovers to Mars, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012 and is still roaming the Red Planet till today.
- Around 90 percent of the team behind Perseverance started working from home earlier in March in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, which makes the Mars 2020 mission the only one to go through final prep with a virtual remote team.
- Perseverance's destination is the Jezero Crater, a 500-meter-deep crater located in a basin slightly north of the Martian equator.
- Jezero Crater once housed a lake estimated to have dried out 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. Therefore, it is the ideal location for Perseverance to hunt for signs of past microbial life.
- The mission will also test out conditions for possible human exploration of Mars by trialing a method of producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, characterizing environmental conditions such as water and dust on Mars, and looking for resources.
- The entry and landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars is referred to as the, 'seven minutes of terror.' That's how long it takes for the rover to get from the top of the Martian atmosphere and down to the surface.
- It then takes an additional 14 minutes for the team to receive a signal from the rover on Mars, considering there's a lag since Mars is millions of miles away.
- Once on Mars, the team will communicate with Perseverance via the Deep Space Network, a global network of antennas that were built in the 1960's.
- The Perseverance rover will collect at least 20 samples from Mars using a handy drill, literally attached to the robot's arm.
- The rock samples will be stored away in tubes in a well-identified place on the Martian surface, and left there to be returned to Earth by a future sample return mission to the Red Planet.
- Perseverance isn't venturing to Mars on its own. The Ingenuity helicopter will hitch a ride with the rover, and allow NASA to test out its ability to fly a helicopter on a planet other than Earth for the first time.
- The team behind Perseverance redesigned its wheels, giving the rover narrower wheels than its predecessor Curiosity, but bigger in diameter and made of thicker aluminum in order to handle the wear and tear of driving around the Martian terrain.
- Perseverance will carry a highly skilled team of detectives on board, its instruments S.H.E.R.L.O.C., (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) and WATSON, Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering instrument, will look for microscopic clues in Martian rock.
- The Perseverance mission feature 23 cameras, more cameras than any other interplanetary mission in history.
- The names of 10,932,295 people were etched onto Perseverance as part of NASA's "Send Your Name to Mars" campaign.
- Perseverance rover is set to spend at least one Martian year on the planet — the equivalent of 687 days on Earth.