Perseverance and the Quest to Find Life on Mars

I remember the Summer of 1997 when a shoebox-sized Mars rover literally broke the Internet.

Sojourner – the first rover we sent to another planet – had just landed on Mars in a giant space airbag bouncing along the surface to a safe stop. The Internet was new. And I was a young space enthusiast with a dial-up modem. For the first time, images from a space exploration mission were beamed to an audience that was connected online. Now we use the term “broke the Internet” as a hyperbolic phrase for various Internet phenomena, but interest in the Mars mission in 97 drove so many hits to NASA mirror servers around the world that global web traffic was disrupted. Patiently I watched as, line by line, orange sky to red stone, the first image posted by NASA loaded on my screen…it took about an hour. Each line resolved was like my own exploration of the planet. And finally, the landing site, in “real time”, was revealed to me and the entire world all at once. What would we discover together?

One of the first images of Sojourner from the 97 Mars Pathfinder Landing – NASA/JPL
Continue reading “Perseverance and the Quest to Find Life on Mars”

Martian Features Were Carved by Glaciers, not Flowing Rivers

Orbiters are giving us a chance to study the surface of Mars closely, and some of the features that pop to prominence are dry river channels. There are over 10,000 of them. But a new study suggests that glaciers on ancient Mars are responsible for many of them.

According to the study, those glaciers and the water flowing under them are resonsible for carving out some of those riverbeds, rather than free-flowing rivers.

Continue reading “Martian Features Were Carved by Glaciers, not Flowing Rivers”

Perseverance Rover Rumbles Off the Launchpad to Mars

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is now successfully on its journey to Mars, launching from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:50 am EDT (1150 GMT). Just minutes before the Atlas 5 rocket rumbled off the launchpad, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake rumbled out in California, giving a minor shake to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Control Center for the rover.

Continue reading “Perseverance Rover Rumbles Off the Launchpad to Mars”

Perseverance Has Been Put Inside its Atlas V Rocket

This summer – between July 30th and August 15th – NASA’s Perseverance rover will begin its long journey for Mars. Once it arrives (by February of 2021), it will join its sister mission, the Curiosity rover, and a slew of other robotic landers and orbiters that are busy characterizing the atmosphere and surface of the Red Planet. Ultimately, the goal of Perseverance is to determine if Mars once supported life (and maybe still does!)

Just last week (July 7th), the Perseverance rover and all the other elements of the Mars 2020 spacecraft were loaded aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that will send it on its way. This included the aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage, which will be responsible for transporting the Perseverance rover during its six-month journey to Mars and depositing it on the surface.

Continue reading “Perseverance Has Been Put Inside its Atlas V Rocket”

Although InSight’s Mole is Completely Buried, it Might be Stuck Again

You’ve gotta hand it to NASA, and to the German Aerospace Center (DLR.) They’ve been struggling for over a year to get the InSight Lander’s Mole working. There’ve been setbacks, then progress, then more setbacks, as they try to get the Mole deep enough to do its job.

Now the Mole is finally buried completely in the Martian surface, but it might still be stuck.

Continue reading “Although InSight’s Mole is Completely Buried, it Might be Stuck Again”

NASA’s Perseverance Rover is Going to Jezero Crater, Which is Looking Better and Better as a Place to Search for Evidence of Past Life on Mars

In 2018, NASA decided that the landing site for its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover would be the Jezero Crater. At the time, NASA said the Jezero Crater was one of the “oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer.” That assessment hasn’t changed; in fact it’s gotten stronger.

A new research paper says that the Jezero Crater was formed over time periods long enough to promote both habitability, and the preservation of evidence.

Continue reading “NASA’s Perseverance Rover is Going to Jezero Crater, Which is Looking Better and Better as a Place to Search for Evidence of Past Life on Mars”

This is How the ESA and NASA Will be Working Together to Bring Rocks Back From Mars

In the near future, sample-return missions from Mars will finally be a reality. For decades, scientists have analyzed the composition of Martian rocks and soil by either sending rovers to the surface or by examining meteorites that came from Mars. But with missions like Perseverance, which are equipped with a sample cache instrument, it won’t be long before Martian rocks are brought back to Earth for study.

Similar to how the Apollo astronauts brought back Moon rocks, which revealed the existence of water on the Moon and its similarity to Earth, Martian rocks could reveal a great deal about the formation and evolution of the Red Planet. The question is, what rocks should be returned? This is the question that the international Mars Sample Return campaign is considering on the eve of Perseverance’s launch.

Continue reading “This is How the ESA and NASA Will be Working Together to Bring Rocks Back From Mars”

Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance”

Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?

NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!

Continue reading “Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance””

Mars 2020 Will be The Third Time That NASA Has Tried to Send a Microphone to Mars

This summer, between mid-July and early August, the Mars 2020 rover will launch, reaching Mars by February of 2021. Once it touched down in the Jezero Crater, it will carry on in the footsteps of its predecessor – the Curiosity rover. This will include searching for evidence of Mars’ past habitability and the possible existence of life (past and present), as well as a sample-return mission.

To accomplish these tasks, the Mars 2020 rover will be relying on an advanced suite of instruments. One of these is the SuperCam, which includes a camera, a laser, and spectrometers and is mounted to the rover’s mast (or “head”). Once operational, this instrument will be used to study the chemistry and mineralogy of Martian rocks and (with any luck) find evidence of fossilized microbial life on Mars.

Continue reading “Mars 2020 Will be The Third Time That NASA Has Tried to Send a Microphone to Mars”