Perseverance’s Triumph on Mars

“Perseverance Rover” by SonnyandSandy is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Eleanor Shaw

On February 18th, Earth saw another one of its beloved rovers, Perseverance, touch down on Mars’ surface and continues to watch as the device begins its endeavor to explore the surface of Mars and further our knowledge of the planet.

Since her launch on July 30th, 2020 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Perseverance has traveled from Earth to Mars in a state that is referred to as “Cruise.” This stage began soon after launch, once the spacecraft separates from the rocket. During this period of time, Perseverance’s team was primarily concerned with maintaining the rover’s current condition and health, all in preparation for Perseverance’s eventual landing. National and international spectators alike held their breath as Perseverance waited to descend onto the red planet. Finally, after more than half a year, Perseverance began its emergence onto Mars. At 3:48 p.m. EST, Perseverance entered the atmosphere, and thus began the most crucial period of her journey (referred to as the “seven minutes of terror” by those involved). Finally, the rover touched down in Jezero Crater at 3:55 p.m. EST, marking the beginning of her historical journey, making Perseverance the first rover to touch down on Martian soil since Curiosity in 2012.

Perseverance’s expedition has already been the source of groundbreaking discoveries and achievements. For instance, we have seen the usage of the first-ever “Mars helicopter,” named Ingenuity. According to NASA, Ingenuity is “[a] technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars. The helicopter rode to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover.” While Ingenuity has few objectives outside of this, its successful flights are especially impressive when taking the thin, Martian atmosphere into account. This paves the way for additional experimental flights, making the bright future of mankind’s exploration of Mars all the more clear. Ingenuity’s mission is fairly short, lasting only 30 days with the goal to achieve one or more flights within that time period. But Ingenuity’s impact on the future of space-exploration is unmistakable. 

This expedition’s focus, Perseverance, is not without her own achievements. According to NASA, Perseverance aims to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.” Perseverance’s mission will have a duration of one year on Mars (around 687 Earth days). Despite the fact that her mission has only just begun, the rover has already delivered groundbreaking new images and audio. This aforementioned audio is the first-ever recording of what Mars sounds like. As mundane as the audio may sound on first listen (being composed of the noises made by wind and dust), this is a historical achievement in its own right. Outside of this, we have received the first images of a Martian sunset thanks to Perseverance. Taking on striking tones of blue and grey, this sunset is far different from the ones we have learned to expect on Earth. To explain why the sunset takes on a somewhat blurred appearance, NASA stated, “The long Martian twilight (compared to Earth’s) is caused by sunlight scattered around to the night side of the planet by abundant high altitude dust. Similar long twilights or extra-colorful sunrises and sunsets sometimes occur on Earth when tiny dust grains that are erupted from powerful volcanoes scatter light high in the atmosphere.” With the discoveries Perseverance has provided us with through the taking of audio and photos, mankind’s understanding of Mars continues to expand. 

All around, Perseverance has already proven herself as a rover set up to make a lasting impact on Earth’s understanding of alien planets, providing us with more information on the Martian planet each day. Using the information gathered from this expedition, NASA is already preparing for further pushes into the universe with high hopes for the future.