1) The robot explorers include a car-sized rover and a helicopter
The rover, named Perseverance, weighs 2,260 pounds. (For comparison, my 2003 Honda Civic weighs about 2,400 pounds.) Perseverance will explore the Jezero Crater, which once held a river and a lake on Mars. Today, Mars is cold and dry. Perseverance will be looking for signs of water, ice made from water, and signs of ancient, microscopic life.
Perseverance and its specialized equipment will:
- Collect rocks to send back to earth so scientists can examine them in detail for signs of ancient life.
- Use radar to search for ice made from water underneath the ground.
- Test a machine that will generate oxygen from Mars’s carbon dioxide atmosphere.
Helicopter on Mars!
Perseverance will also launch a small, 4-pound helicopter named Ingenuity. This will be a first for NASA and all Earth’s space explorers! Never before have humans operated a rotary-winged aircraft–or rotorcraft–on an alien world.
Ingenuity will help NASA test whether rotorcraft will make good explorers of planets with an atmosphere. Helicopters may make good survey craft that can quickly map large sections of planets and find locations of interest for rovers to examine in more detail.
2) The mission will provide historic audio and video records
Perseverance has 23 cameras and two microphones. Some of those cameras will capture footage of Perseverance’s touchdown on Mars, scheduled for Feb. 18, 2021. One of the microphones will also record the landing.
The other microphone will record Perseverance as it explores the Martian surface and drills into the Martian rock.
3) Perseverance and Ingenuity were named by kids
Alex Mather, a seventh-grader from Virginia, submitted the name Perseverance. Vaneeza Rupani, a high-school junior from Alabama, recommended the name Ingenuity. Both got to watch the launch in person at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
What is the timeline for Perseverance’s mission?
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying Perseverance and Ingenuity launched today at 7:50 AM eastern time. Perseverance will travel through space for seven months to reach Mars. A rocket-powered crane will lower Perseverance to the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021. Ingenuity will be strapped to the belly of Perseverance. The two machines will explore Mars for at least one Martian year, which is almost two Earth years.
Perseverance will collect at least 20 rock samples. NASA is planning a joint mission with the European Space Agency to pick up those samples and bring them back to Earth as early as 2031.
You can learn more in a great article for Space.com by author Mike Wall. You can also find Mike Wall on Twitter at @michaeldwall.
NASA also has a really cool mission packet filled with photos and facts.
Plan your Mars mission!
Plan your own mission to the Red Planet. If you were in charge of a NASA mission to Mars, what would you do?
- Send robots to explore the surface or the atmosphere?
- Send astronauts to set up a science lab?
- Send colonists to settle Mars?
Please post your comments below.