I write about Space.
NASA's latest and greatest $2.7 Billion rover, Perseverance, was launched on July 30, 2020. It was a huge deal, and you're probably confused as to why. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab manufactured Percy, and it is expected to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. Though it looks like a tiny robot to the eye, it is the size of an SUV and weighs 1025 kg (2260 lb). Let's start with the purpose of the whole mission. Perseverance serves four purposes.
First, to determine whether life ever existed on Mars. Perseverance's predecessors had confirmed that Mars once had habitable conditions. Hence, it will check for bio-signatures in rock samples that might have favored microbial life in the hope of reproducing them in the future to make Mars habitable.
Second, to characterize the climate of Mars. The current climate on Mars, to put it in the most natural way possible, is inhabitable. Perseverance's job is to estimate how the atmosphere was a few million years ago and whether it was habitable. These findings could potentially reveal Martian features that could make life possible on Mars.
Third, to categorize the geology of Mars. To estimate the age and composition of rocks on the Red Planet's surface is of fundamental importance to inhabiting it. The rocks reveal what happened to the planet over time, and could also help detect the presence of water. Just like when humans discovered new continents and made topographical maps of them, it is of utmost importance to do the same with Mars.
Fourth, to prepare for the human exploration of Mars. Eventually, humans will land on the surface of Mars, but that day would only arrive if the safety of the astronauts is guaranteed. We currently know that Mars lacks an ozone layer, but don't know the amount of radiation that reaches the surface or any other problems that astronauts might face due to the very thin atmosphere. Perseverance, along with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will look for water on Mars, which will significantly benefit future human explorers.
Along with Perseverance, a NASA JPL manufactured helicopter named "Ingenuity" will also be exploring Mars. It will be the first helicopter in the history of humankind to attempt to fly on another planet. The ingenuity helicopter is a test in itself. It will seek new capabilities for the first time, with limited scope. Though traveling along with Perseverance, it is a separate mission with its own separate objectives. Even though the force of gravity on Mars is about 2.6 times lesser than that on earth, taking flight on Mars is extremely difficult, owing to its atmosphere, which is 99% less dense than the earth, and extremely cold temperatures, reaching -130°F (or -90°C).
Ingenuity has a long list of milestones that it needs to achieve. Some of these include surviving the launch and landing, deploying to the surface from Percy's belly, autonomously keeping itself warm, and charging itself with its solar panel.
Now let's look into some of the differences between Perseverance and it's predecessor, Curiosity. A significant amount of Curiosity's body was carried over to Percy, but there are quite a few differences even though they look almost the same. Some of the major differences include the system that collects the sample rock cores drilled by the robotic arm, the turret, which is now heavier and will be able to hold heavier scientific tools, the number of cameras (23 on Percy against the 17 on Curiosity), wheels with new dimensions and design, and a cross beam which stabilises the rover during launch. Perseverance also has two onboard microphones, making it the first Mars rover to send audio back to earth.
Apart from the super-advanced tech that Perseverance carries, it also carries some very interesting plates. On the rover are three thumbnail sized silicon chips which have on them the names of 10.9 million people who participated in NASA's "Send Your Name to Space" campaign. They also carry the essays of the 155 finalists of NASA's "Name The Rover" challenge. The rover also features a tribute plate, on which is a snake entwined rod, to the medical community for their tireless work during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside an insignia of Earth, Mars and the Sun.
The rover is a marvel of engineering and science, and I sincerely hope it does justice to the years of hard work that NASA has put into this project. It is a leap towards colonizing Mars and will go down in history. I hope this article gave you some clarity about the mission and deepened your interests in Space exploration.
Previously behind a paywall at: https://medium.com/predict/perseverance-c4a582dd62c4
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