The newest Martian, a robot named Perseverance, is alive and well after his first day and night on the red planet, NASA scientists and engineers said Friday. Members of the triumphant team that manages the spaceship were delighted as they shared images captured by the cameras during landing and after the rover reached the surface.
“As scientists, we’re used to the engineers showing us animations of the rover, and that’s what I thought at first,” said Katie Stack Morgan, assistant project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the Images. “And then I took it twice and said this is the actual rover.”
The image shared by NASA showed the rover in the final phase of its landing when a part of the spacecraft known as a sky crane, sometimes compared to a jetpack, gently lowered the vehicle to the surface.
“We are overwhelmed with excitement and overjoyed to have successfully landed another rover on the surface of Mars,” said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer of the rover mission.
The system was also used during the Curiosity Rover’s landing in 2012 and contributed to the safe arrival of both robot researchers on the difficult terrain of the fourth planet in front of the sun. After the rover landed, the sky crane flew to a safe location where landing would not harm the mission.
Another photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that has been exploring Mars from space since 2006, showed the rover hanging on its parachute as it soared over the Martian terrain. The rover hangs over Jezero Crater, the location NASA selected for their final Mars landing.
The rover landed in a small rock-strewn plaza in the center of Jezero crater, which was thought to be the dry basin of a lake that existed 3.8 billion years ago. It’s near a rougher area of broken terrain that scientists named Canyon de Chelly after the Navajo Arizona site of the same name. The rover is approximately 1.25 miles from a river delta. Scientists believe it is a prime place to look for chemical signatures of ancient microbial life.
And so the adventure begins.
Hallie Gengl Abarca, an engineer who oversees work on the rover’s data systems, showed a close-up image of one of the rover’s wheels surrounded by small rocks with pitted surfaces: “One of the amazing things now is that we have image data, now we can we hand them over to the robotics and science teams. “
One of the mission’s first scientific tasks will be to examine the rocks in the crater and find out if they are volcanic basalt or sedimentary rocks. If the rocks are sedimentary, the area could have been habitable long ago; If they are volcanic, geologists can calculate their age.
“I think we can say these rocks are between 3.8 and 3.6 or 3.7 billion years old,” said Dr. Morgan of the Jet Propulsion Lab. “So this is the time in Mars history when the water on the Martian surface was stable, and we believe this area would have been a habitable environment.”
For decades, a diverse armada of spacecraft has moved from Earth to Mars roughly every two years, when the planets are randomly aligned. NASA was backed by China and the United Arab Emirates this month, who sent both spacecraft to survey the planet. It has become part of an international scientific effort to find out whether life on earth ever had a society in the solar system. Not all spacecraft made it, and even NASA saw a number of failed missions to Mars in the 1990s.
NASA’s twin Viking spacecraft, which landed in 1976, famously dug its way into the sand and conducted experiments looking for living microbes, but remained empty, perhaps because scientists did not understand Mars chemistry.
The Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still roaming a place called Gale Crater. It found geological evidence of past water, the essential part of life as we think we know it. The eight years of persistence, according to Dr. Steltzner search the places where there was once water for so-called biosignatures – fossils or other evidence of once-living organisms.
“When we make such investments,” he said, “we are doing them for humanity, and we are doing them as a gesture of our humanity.”
Perseverance will sneak around the crater – an old lake bed – and then take a winding path through an old river delta, blast stones with a laser and take photos. It will take and hold samples of rocks and debris and leave them for a future mission where the samples will be taken and returned to laboratories on Earth.
That’s when all goes well.
The engineers said the rover would spend the weekend checking its software and hardware, and deploying various instruments such as a mast camera that was locked down for the six-month journey through space.
They also intend to warm up Ingenuity, the experimental helicopter that could be the first to be used in controlled flight on another planet.
Pauline Hwang, a mission manager in the lab, said it could take 60 Mars days – or Sols – for the helicopter to fly.
After the checkout is complete, the rover needs to find a good spot for the helicopter to take off. “We call it a helipad,” she said. “So we don’t know how many sols it will take.”
“There might be some really good parking lots nearby, as we call it, helipads,” she said, “so it might not take us long to get there. But there is still work to be done to find out. “
Apparently, even on Mars, parking can be a problem.