Martian Minivan

On Thursday, February 18, at 3:55 pm EST, NASA’s Perseverance rover made a gentle landing on the surface of Mars. The rover is very similar to Curiosity, another NASA rover that has been on the surface of Mars since 2012. Even though the rovers look very similar, they are very different. Curiosity has been looking for signs that Mars could have supported life in the past, which it found, and Perseverance is looking for evidence that life existed in the past.

Curiosity and Perseverance are exactly the same height (7 feet), length (10 feet), and width (9 feet). However, they are very different weights, with Curiosity weighing 1,982 pounds and Perseverance weighing 2,260 pounds. The extra weight of Perseverance is a result of the new scientific instruments onboard. Perseverance features an experimental ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) to test technology for making breathable air out of the thin Martian atmosphere. The new rover also boasts a new sample collection system. Curiosity takes samples by drilling a hole in the ground that it collects the powder from to study, while Perseverance will use a core sample drill which will leave an intact section of rock that is placed in a tube; the tube is then put in a carousel on the bottom of the rover by a small arm. These samples can then be dropped by the rover in one large pile or in several smaller piles to be collected by a later mission, which will likely be performed by the ESA (European Space Agency) in partnership with NASA. Perseverance also has a different suite of instruments for looking for signs of life instead of signs of water and other substances essential for life.

Perseverance has sent video and audio of its landing back to Earth, which can be found here. Curiosity is the only other rover to record its landing, but that video, which can be found here, was low quality (720p) and had a very low framerate of 5 frames per second. The video from Perseverance should be in 4K quality and have a much higher framerate of 75 frames per second. Perseverance will allow humans on Earth to see Mars in high quality for the first time. Perseverance was supposed to record audio of the landing to send back to Earth, but the computer that controlled the microphone failed. The problem has been resolved, but there is no audio of the landing. The sounds of Mars without any rover noise can be found here and here with the rover noise. There are also 10,932,295 names on three thumbnail-sized silicon chips mounted to the rover so many people can say they have their name on Mars. As Perseverance was finished in 2020, the crew added a tribute plate to the medical community and a picture of Earth, the Sun, and Mars.

Both Curiosity and Perseverance used a sky crane landing system. After the rover separated from its parachute, which doesn’t work very well in the thin Martian atmosphere, eight rocket motors mounted to a skell on the back of the rover fired to slow the rover to just three miles per hour. About 30 feet above the ground, the rover was lowered by three nylon ropes to the ground. 

Perseverance is currently charging the Ingenuity helicopter, which will be a proof-of-concept for mechanical powered flight on Mars. Ingenuity weighs less than four pounds and has much larger propellers than would be needed on Earth because of Mars’ thin atmosphere.

If Perseverance is anything like past Mars rovers designed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), it will continue sending science back to Earth until the Martian terrain forces it to stop. Soon, there may be proof that there was life on Mars.

Freshmen Sean Harren is a staff writer for the 2020-2021 Colonel. He plays soccer and lacrosse. In his free time, he enjoys sailing and CAD modeling/3D printing.

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