The 18th of February was a very important day in the history of the human interplanetary missions as NASA saw the successful landing of its Mars Perseverance rover.
The ambitious mission is to collect soil samples and also survey the planet’s surface as it descended on the Jezero Crater thought to have been a location of liquid water in a long past.
This first-of-its-kind mission showed the red planet in a high definition like never before with the space agency saying they want everyone to “see Mars like never before,” and it was an amazing sight.
Different cameras mounted on the Perseverance rover were able to capture the descent to the surface of the planet all which were captured and sent to earth – though not immediately but we saw how things went after NASA finally made those footages public.
The interesting descent was really dramatic and super-fast with the deployment of the parachute which is said to be 150 meters above the rover to enable a safe landing to commence the mission with immediate effect.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to actually capture an event like the landing of a spacecraft on Mars,” said Mike Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a press briefing Monday. “We all binge-watched them over the weekend.”
A lot of high definition footage of the touchdown was beamed back to Earth detailing the events of the touchdown.
Speaking of speed, the deployment of the parachute was less than a 1 second while the massive parachute which was carrying the 1.5 tons robotic rover guided the the landing to a safe zone.
In terms of the number of data being collected by the space agency, there were enormous data including photographs and likely audio files as NASA also included microphones to pick up whatever the red planet sounds like.
“We collected a little over 30GB of information and and over 23,000 images of the vehicle descending down to the surface of Mars,” said Dave Gruel, EDL and camera suite lead on Perseverance.
When the rover was close to the surface at about 7 feet, there was a serious dust eruption which isn’t a surprise considering the fact that we’re already familiar with the planet’s surface thanks to extensive researches and older missions on the planet’s surface.
But even the most keen Mars watchers will be blown away by what NASA has delivered from just above the surface of an alien planet.
There are a lot of wonderful moments in the footage. The heat shield being jettisoned from the bottom of the spacecraft is a serene sayonara to Perseverance’s protective gear. The black disc flies from Perseverance to its final resting place on the surface of Mars.
There is another view of the landing which is based on an opposite view as the Perseverance rover detaches from its carrier while the umbilical cord and cables holding the rover were tightly attached.
And if you’re wondering what happens after the safe descent of the Rover as the “Skycrane” drops it off the Martian soil, well, it autonomously flew away from the landing zone and then nosedives into a soil – BYE!
“Percy” gets a great look at the descent stage just before it departs, a final goodbye to the craft before its demise.
There were also audio files from the rover which couldn’t be recovered during the landing phase.
“What we think happened is that there was a communication error between the device that is responsible for digitizing the analog signals that the microphone picks up and and then passing the app to the computer that actually stores all the data,” Gruel said.
The mission of the Perseverance rover is to survey the Jezero crater for as long as it possibly can and gather data that can be retrieved during another mission. More images are coming in the near future as the rover will beam whatever raw data it gets back to Earth.
The part I’m waiting for is when the InSight helicopter kicks off its own mission and flies around. The dense atmosphere of the planet made scientists develop the mini helicopter to propel much faster than conventional helicopter rotors due to the need for air required for lift.
The mission kicked off back in July 30th, 2020 in Florida, US on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V which saw the Perseverance spending 7 months in the harsh environment of space before finally making it to Mars.
When it reached Mars, it jettisoned its outer layer and slammed into the red planet’s tenuous atmosphere. Only 10 minutes later, it had planted its six wheels firmly on the Martian soil in Jezero Crater, a location that scientists believe was once a lake bed. Where there’s water, there’s potential for life — and Perseverance will seek signs Mars was once inhabited by alien microbes.
Life might not be exclusive to Earth as the search continues even though scientists like Elon Musk wants the Martian planet to be filled with Homo Sapiens by the year 2050 which is pretty ambitious.