Perseverance: A New Addition to The Martian Robotic Family
By Elyas Layachi
Volume 1 Issue 6
March 18, 2021
Image provided by NASA
Did you know that as of 2016, 18 out of the 44 missions to Mars were successful? Or that Russia has the most mission failures, and that the first picture of the surface of Mars was taken by Viking 1 on July 20th, 1976? These facts are among many regarding the robotic exploration of Mars. With the launch and recent landing of Perseverance, many more facts are coming our way, and it might even find the one question humans have pondered on for centuries: are we alone in the universe? In our own galaxy? Even our solar system?
History of Mars Missions
Since 1960, we have launched several dozen missions to Mars to learn more about its composition, past, and whether it has life or signs of ancient life. The first successful flyby of Mars happened in 1965, and since then, four nations have made it to Mars successfully: the US., the Soviet Union, the ESA, and India. Other nations, including Russia, Japan, and China, however, were unsuccessful in their missions.
The first NASA mission to Mars was the Mariner 9, which successfully launched on May 30, 1971, and it became the first artificial satellite of Mars. Other missions were successfully launched after the Mariner 9, with the Vikings 1 and 2 in 1975 and 1976. They became the first spacecraft to land safely on the surface of another planet. It was quite a milestone for NASA, for it proved that robotic exploration of Mars was possible. This paved the way for more recent developments, with the landings of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which were launched in 2003 and landed on the Martian surface in 2004. Although the rovers are identical to each other, they are exploring different regions of Mars. Each of the rovers carries a sophisticated set of instruments to search for evidence of liquid water that may have been present in the planet’s past. The landing of Perseverance is a continuation of the Spirit and Opportunity missions, but with a different goal.
According to NASA, the Perseverance rover is designed to study the rock record of Mars to reveal more about the geologic processes that created and modified Martian curst and surface through time. It will test technologies that help sustain human presence on Mars someday, as well as search for possible signs of past or present life. Its first objective is to study the rocks and landscape at Jezero crater to reveal the region’s history. Its second objective regards astrobiology. Perseverance will attempt to determine the habitability of the ancient environment of Mars. It will also search for potential evidence of past life using its observations. Mission goals include determining whether life ever existed on Mars, characterizing the climate of Mars, characterizing its geology, and preparing for human exploration in the 2030s.
What makes the Perseverance mission special is its recordings of landing. It is the first mission to have video of the landing of Perseverance as it descended through the atmosphere and deployed during the “skycrane” stage. Additionally, with the onboard microphone, Perseverance produced the first-ever recording of Martian winds. The link to the NASA Mars library, which contains these videos and many more, is below.