A new era of Mars Exploration has begun! NASA’s Perseverance rover performed a successful landing at the Jezero Crater, the most complicated location on Mars to date.
Perseverance will now begin its two-year mission on the surface in search of traces of ancient life on the Red Planet. Furthermore, it will collect samples that will, in the future, be collected by subsequent missions to the planet. Although Perseverance’s life expectancy is about two years, it is expected that it will continue to operate for much longer as it has happened with previous missions.
The Perseverance landing in comparison with previous Mars missions
Despite all the potential difficulties, NASA executed the landing perfectly. When sending the old missions, the agency has always tried to choose the landing places as flat as possible, without sharp rocks, without steep cliffs and hills. But these are not places that are particularly interesting to science. On Mars, there are more massive canyons than Colorado’s Grand Canyon and higher peaks than Everest.
Jezero Crater has long seduced researchers. It was even considered to send the Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012, there, but NASA refused, as the chance of crashing due to obstacles was estimated at between 15 and 20%. There are all sorts of possible obstacles you can think of, but the area is intriguing because in the distant past there were rivers and a large lake. The water that once filled Jezero has dried up and the bottom of the crater has cracked.
Previous missions have relied heavily on the radar to determine the distance to the surface and to know how long to keep their retro missiles on. But it’s like moving in a dark room. Now, for the first time in the history of astronautics, NASA attempted and executed an “open-eyed” landing. Cameras captured the descent, and the on-board computer compared where Perseverance is based on preloaded orbital images.
The new landing system was already tested during the descent of Osiris-Rex to the surface of the asteroid Benu in October last year. A lot of people were involved in mapping back then to ensure a successful landing – including me. Everything was successful. But Martian descents are a much bigger difficulty. Osiris-Rex had several hours to travel to the surface of Benu, and in the event of a problem, researchers could always issue a withdrawal order.
But landing on Mars takes only seven minutes if we count from the moment we enter the atmosphere until we reach the surface. Add to that the fact that the radio signal from Mars to Earth travels about 11 minutes. This makes the intervention of the ground team impossible in case of a problem.
The moment a radio signal is received that a spacecraft has entered the Martian atmosphere, the landing will be long over and the rover will already be on the Red Planet – intact or in pieces. But Perseverance succeeded!
What comes next?!
Over the next few hours and days after the landing on Mars, the teams will check all the subsystems of Perseverance, as well as the scientific tools, to make sure that everything went well. The rover is embarking on an ambitious mission that will last at least two years. Meanwhile, we expect Perseverance to look for traces of past life on the Red Planet and launch a small experimental helicopter into the Martian atmosphere.
Perseverance is also embarking on a very ambitious task on Mars – collecting rocks and soil samples, which will be packed in special containers and left for further transport to Earth.
I remind readers that in December, the Chinese Chang’e 5 landed a soft landing on the moon, took samples, and delivered them to Earth in a similar way as the American Apollo manned missions did.
But Mars is much farther away, the gravitational pull is stronger than lunar gravity, and the task of delivering the rocks is more difficult. Three missions are committed to this goal, the first of which is Perseverance.
Once the material is collected and packaged, it will be intercepted by a European rover, then loaded onto a return rocket and launched from the Martian surface. Already in orbit around Mars, a transitional docking will take place and the return journey to Earth can begin.
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• Amos, J. (2021, February 18). Nasa’s perseverance Rover lands on Mars.
• Macaya, M. (2021, February 18). Mars rover landing: Live updates.
• Roulette, J. (2021, February 18). NASA’s perseverance rover successfully lands on Mars.
• Strickland, A. (2021, February 18). Perseverance rover is coming in for a Mars landing today.