NASA’s Perseverance rover survived an edge-of-the-seat landing phase after spending seven months in space to touch down on Mars surface on Thursday. “Touchdown confirmed”, said Swati Mohan, the mission’s Operations Lead and soon after that, “I’m safe on Mars”, was tweeted from Perseverance’s public account.

Newly appointed United States of America President Joe Biden considered the landing “historic” and said that nothing is beyond possibility with the power of science and American ingenuity in his tweet.

Images sent by NASA Perseverance shortly after landing on Mars:

 

What will the NASA Perseverance rover do?

The robot is designed specifically to look for signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet. It should be noted that this is the first NASA mission that is working in the direction of finding “biosignatures” after the Viking missions that happened in the 1970s.

The Perseverance rover aims to collect samples of the Martian soil, rock, encase them in little bio tubes and leave the tubes on the surface of the planet. These tubes will be brought back to Earth on a future date in a different mission (more about that in this article). The robot will also study the geology of Mars and identify whether astronauts on the future Martian missions could ever produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or not. Perseverance will explore the Jezero Crater that’s near to the Martian equator for one Martian year (about 687 Earth days).

What was its journey like? 

The robot was launched on 30th July 2020 from NASA’s Florida space center. The rover, which weighed almost one-tonne, travelled through space in a protective shell consisted of 2 parts: a heat shield and a backshell. The aeroshell fired thrusters which helped the spacecraft stay on course and stayed connected to the craft till the cruise stage.

How did Perseverance land on the Mars surface?

The spacecraft completed a 470-million-km journey from Earth and pierced the Martian atmosphere enduring temperatures as high as 2,100C. When 11 km above the Martian ground, the spacecraft deployed a parachute which slowed down the payload. The spacecraft was carrying with itself the heaviest payload in the Mars exploration history. Thanks to the parachute, the payload’s spead dropped down from Mach 1.7 (2,099 km/h) to nearly about 320 km/h.

Subsequently, the heat shield dropped away from the spacecraft backshell and the rover for a little while flied freely and fell towards the ground without any hindrance. On the descent stage, eight retrorockets blasted off which allowed “sky crane” maneuver to be performed. The rover was lowered slowly on three nylon ropes. When the rover’s wheels touched the Martian surface, the tethers were cut off.

Check out this beautiful animation to see just how Perseverance made landing on Mars:

What scientific instruments is Perseverance carrying?  

The rover carried with it some crucial scientific payload of instruments that will aid it to accumulate information about the red planet’s atmosphere, environmental conditions, geology and biosignatures (if any).

Mastcam-Z: A highly advanced camera system that will help study the Martian surface minerals.

Mastcam

Mastcam | Image Credit: NASA

MEDA: Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer or MEDA is a sensor suite that will measure parameters like temperature, pressure, dust, humidity. The sensor is completely Spanish-built.

meda-web

meda-web | Image Credit: NASA

MOXIE: Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or MOXIE An experimental device that will demonstrate how future astronauts can create oxygen from the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere.

MOXIE

MOXIE | Image Credit: NASA

PIXL: PIXL is short for Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry. It is a spectrometer that identifies chemical elements. The device also has a camera that will take close-up images of the Martian rock and soil.

PIXL

PIXL | Image Credit: NASA

RIMFAX: RIMFAX or Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment is a radar device that will completely map out the Martian geology through its ground-penetrating radar.

RIMFAX

RIMFAX | Image Credit: NASA

SHERLOC: SHERLOC is short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals. The device is mounted on the rover’s arm and will use cameras, spectrometers to search for minerals that were altered by water.

SHERLOC

SHERLOC | Image Credit: NASA

SuperCam: The SuperCam is a camera that’s mounted on the “head” of the rover. The SuperCam will examine the Martian rock, soil and surface through spectrometers, camera and laser.

SuperCam

SuperCam | Image Credit: NASA

What is the difference between Curiosity and Perseverance?

Perseverance is quite similar to the previous NASA-designed Mars exploration rover Curiosity in terms of its design. But there are major differences between these two rovers. The Perseverance landed on Mars with a completely new set of scientific payload.

Additionally, Perseverence has a larger turret or a “hand” to hold a heavier suite of tools. Moreover, the NASA engineers re-designed the rover’s wheels and made it resistant to future wear and tear. This was done due to the fact that Perseverance’s predecessor Curiosity suffered from damage from driving over sharp and pointed rocks that are plentiful on Mars.