Vandi Verma, the Indian-origin NASA engineer, after driving the Perseverance rover on Mars said that “it is just amazing”. On Friday, the SUV-sized rover began its journey in search of ancient microbial life on the floor of the Jezero crater.

About Vandi Verma

Vandi Verma, chief engineer for robotics operations with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is proudly driving the rover through the tenuous terrain of the crater believed to be the site of an ancient lake.

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Vandi Verma in NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory | Image Credit: Vandi Verma’s Instagram

Vandi is from Halwara in Punjab, her father was an Indian Air Force pilot. With a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, she has been driving rovers on Mars since 2008 with successfully steering Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers in the past.


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About her exploration through rover

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Vandi Verma with Perseverance Rovers | Image Credit: Vandi Verma’s Instagram

Verma’s operational ground is Jezero crater these days, was once a lake, billions of years ago, when Mars was wetter than today. Perseverance’s destination is a dried-out river delta at the crater’s edge. During its journey, the rover will gather samples over some 15 kilometres stretch and then prep them for collection by a future mission that would take them back to Earth for deeper analysis.

As the rover commences its journey, a team of engineers, drivers and planners is involved in its navigation on the Red Planet. The route has to be carved out with precision to safeguard the science laboratory on wheels from terrain-related incidents.


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Detailed information about the working and functioning of rover

The radio signals between Earth and Mars are delayed, the rover cannot be driven using a joystick, and engineers have to be dependent on commands to be executed beforehand. They rely on satellite images of the crater and use 3D glasses to view the Martian surface in the rover’s vicinity.

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Vandi Verma Driving Rover | Image Credit: Vandi Verma’s Instagram

Once the team has the course ready, they beam the instructions to Mars, and the rover executes those instructions the following day. Unlike its predecessors, Perseverance can employ one of its computers just for navigation on the surface; its main computer can completely concentrate itself to the many other tasks that keep the rover healthy and active.

As the rover misbalanced over the surface of Mars over 300 million kilometres away, Verma said-

“It’s a rover driver’s paradise. When you put on the 3D glasses, you see so much more undulation in the terrain. Some days I just stare at the images.”


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Check the recent tweet here

Some exclusive features of the rover

The rover will take charge of the drive-by itself, using a powerful auto-navigation system. Called AutoNav, this enhanced system makes 3D maps of the terrain ahead, identifies hazards, and plans a route around any obstacles without additional direction from controllers back on Earth.

According to NASA-

“The rover also keeps track of how far it’s moved from one spot to another using a system called “visual odometry.” Perseverance periodically captures images as it moves, comparing one position to the next to see if it moved the expected distance.”

The rover has experienced some of the biggest engineering scientific marvels on the planet when it saw the Ingenuity helicopter take the first flight. In its first 100 days on the Red Planet, the rover has also made oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere.


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Few attempts to be made by rover

Ingenuity will try to break its own records in distance, time aloft, and groundspeed, NASA said. For achieving this feat, the helicopter will try to attempt the following things-

1. Fly 2,051 feet (625 meters).

2. Hit a speed of 5 meters (16 feet) per second.

3. Remain airborne for approximately 167 seconds.

4. All along, it will try to click colour images of the trip.