Perseverance Leads to Touchdowns

NASA rover reached Mars last Thursday; successfully sending back live streams

Nope, that’s not a Vince Lombardi quote. The latest Mars touchdown occurred last Thursday, just after our previous newsletter. We wanted to give NASA and its Perseverance crew their due in this week’s edition. The mission has been a major success thus far; not only did the Perseverance rover land intact, on time, and according to plan—but it has since begun to explore and send back live stream footage from the Red to Blue planet. First, let’s review the descent, touchdown, and celebration in the video below:

The Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. The real footage in this video was captured by several cameras that are part of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing suite. The views include a camera looking down from the spacecraft’s descent stage (a kind of rocket-powered jet pack that helps fly the rover to its landing site), a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, a camera on the top of the aeroshell (a capsule protecting the rover) looking up at that parachute, and a camera on the bottom of the rover looking down at the Martian surface. This equipment, along with other mechanisms on the spacecraft, employs a number of cutting edge robotics and electromechanical components. The audio embedded in the video comes from the mission control call-outs during entry, descent, and landing. Great work, NASA!

One of the more popular aspects of this tech-filled mission is the Ingenuity helicopter, developed by drone manufacturer Aerovironment, which began exploring the Red Planet this week.

“The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flight on another world for the first time. It hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover. Once the team finds a suitable “helipad” location, the rover will release Ingenuity to perform a series of test flights over a 30-Martian-day experimental window beginning sometime in the spring.

For the first flight, the helicopter will take off a few feet from the ground, hover in the air for about 20 to 30 seconds, and land. That will be a major milestone: the very first powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars. After that, the team will attempt additional experimental flights of incrementally farther distance and greater altitude. After the helicopter completes its technology demonstration, Perseverance will continue its scientific mission.”—NASA Mission Control

While not entirely unprecedented, the mission’s effect is already resounding. It brings the most advanced exploratory tools to the surface of Mars that mankind has seen yet. The U.S. landed the first operational rover on Mars in 1996, but was not technically the first to reach the planet; the former Soviet Union achieved a touchdown on December 2, 1971 with its Mars 3 lander. However, this mission is only seen as a partial success due to a loss of communication with the lander after only 104 seconds, leaving the fate of the accompanying rover unknown since. In addition to the U.S. and Russia—China, India, and the United Arab Emirates have past or ongoing Mars missions in some capacity, whether it be an orbiter, landing craft, or rover. A comprehensive overview of Mars missions can be found on this Wikipedia page, including two maps showing landing locations.

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