The First Step to Finding Life on Mars
By Morgan Lane
February 18, 2021 was a big day at NASA. The mars rover, “Perseverance” successfully landed on the red planet after a 6 month and 300 million mile journey. Perseverance began its journey on July 30, 2020 as it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Half a year later at 3:55 P.M, cheers could be heard from NASA as footage from the surface of Mars was seen. The accomplishments from the project would be made historic, and will continue to if all goes well.
Weighing 2000 pounds and costing 2.8 billion dollars, it was challenging to get Perseverance to safely land on Mars. Many things had to be taken into account in order for the landing to be achieved. The mission had a scare called the “Seven minutes of terror:” the seven minutes the rover was falling from Mars’ atmosphere to the ground (the entry, descent, and landing, also known as “EDL”). Since it takes 11 minutes for a radio signal to reach from Mars to Earth, the fear of the unknown was apparent. Sophomore Maya Woodson shared her opinion on this obstacle that NASA faced, “you wouldn’t know whether it safely touched down or was broken into a million pieces until it was landed.”
The many, many advanced steps needed to safely land Perseverance would all happen so fast, virtually nothing was allowed to go wrong. “Figuring out how to descend by parachute, rocket engines and sky crane would be the most difficult part of the mission to execute,” explained Sophomore Oriane Effim.
A compressed procedure was fit into this few minutes of time. This is an explanation of the EDL in a nutshell. First, Perseverance detached from the cruise stage. The cruise stage was the main piece that got the spacecraft from Earth to Mars. Next, after a heat shield is used to slow the spacecraft down, a parachute is launched from about 7 miles away from the ground. Then, the heat shield (shield that protects the rover from dangerous temperatures) detaches as the craft gets closer to the Jezero Crater, the landing target. Lastly, eight rockets will help Perseverance approach the surface before wire cables help carefully place the rover on the ground. All extra equipment besides Perseverance is then flown away.
The landing in the Jezero Crater was strategic. From scientific theories and evidence, the crater is thought to have once been filled with water and ancient life. By landing Perseverance in this area, it can find samples of this microbial life. To make sure nothing is missed, Perseverance will be traveling around .1 miles per hour to cover approximately 15 miles of space over the next few years. Regardless of the mission and progress of the rover, finding life on Mars may impact some, but not others. Sophomore Jenna Wilson stated, “Finding life on Mars means a chance for future generations to learn from past generations mistakes. I hope that if we have civilization on Mars, that one day society will treat the planet much better than Earth”
This mission would be one that made history. Perseverance was the first rover to pick up sound from Mars. Although there wasn’t much to hear because there isn’t much activity on the red planet, it was the first step to bigger things. In an 18 second audio where the sound of the rover was removed, there was almost complete silence. With the rover included, there was a subtle, machine like hum. To hear the released audio, here is NASA’s stream.
Perseverance was not the only rover to land on Mars during the month of February. “Hope” from the United Arab Emirates landed on February 9th, 2021 and “Tianwen-1” from China landed on February 10th, 2021. Although all 3 rovers touched ground on the red planet around the same time, it is unlikely that they will come in contact with each other.