The Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars!4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
All Things Science
Mars has long been an aspiration for any space enthusiast. But, very few questions about this planet have been answered satisfactorily. But we have now taken a bigger step to understand this planet; NASA’s Perseverance landed on Mars early Friday, making it another giant leap for humankind.
The story behind the name
A 13-year-old boy from Virginia, USA, Alexander Mather, named the Perseverance rover. Many entries were submitted for the contest to choose the name of the next Mars rover. After the dust settled, Mather’s entry, Perseverance, won.
Check out this YouTube video on why Mather chose Perseverance:
Perseverance had a six month-long journey to Mars. Yet the most challenging part of the mission was before landing. Dubbed the ‘seven minutes of terror’, this is while the rover is flying through Mars’s atmosphere. The signal from Perseverance to communicate with the earth is traveling at light speed. Even though light is the fastest, it takes 11 minutes for it to cover the 30 million miles from Earth to Mars. This means that during this time period, the scientists cannot send commands to the rover or know if it is in good health. This whole process is autonomous. On top of that, the rover has to slow down from 21,000 kmph to 3 kmph in 7 minutes. With all that heat, there is a possibility that the rover’s mechanisms are damaged. What a nail-biter!
Did the rover make it?
Yes, thankfully it did! When the rover enters the atmosphere, the heat shield protected its underside as it can get as hot as ½ the temperature of the surface of the sun! Then, the rover slows down and deploys a supersonic parachute. This is one like what Rocket Lab uses to slow down its helicopter, except a lot bigger. You can see how they do that here.
The slowing down process is accelerated with some rocket boosters. Following this maneuver, the rover splits into two parts. The part with the rocket boosters lowers the rover down with strings to avoid kicking up any dust that could damage instruments. Then, once the rover lands, the sky crane cuts the strings and flies away.
Mission accomplished? Not quite.
Since the rover hasn’t done much on Mars yet (it has 2 years to complete its mission), it hasn’t accomplished much besides the landing, yet. Perseverance’s main goal, which is to find signs of past life on Mars, is yet to be accomplished. While the scientists are suiting up to study the samples, we will be watching closely for the biggest news on Perseverance.
Did you know?
The face behind the Perseverance rover mission is Indian-American scientist Swati Mohan. She immigrated to the US when she was just a year old and is the guidance and controls operations lead for this mission. This essentially means that she was the ‘eyes and ears’ of the spacecraft.
(All Things Science is a weekly column on science and other related topics)