MYSTERY WIRE (AP) — It’s the biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built — a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers.
The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled Perseverance rover will drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be brought home in about 2031 in a sort of interplanetary relay race involving multiple spacecraft and countries.
NASA scientists on Wednesday (27 January) previewed how they plan to land the six-wheeled rover on the Martian surface on February 18.
In what NASA calls “seven minutes of terror”, the craft will go from 12,000 miles per-hour to a complete stop.
It will use Mars’ atmosphere, a 70-foot parachute and the Sky Crane, a rocket-powered jet pack descent stage, to slow it down and maneuver in for a gentle touchdown.
Perseverance will aim for Jezero Crater, a treacherous, unexplored expanse of boulders, cliffs, dunes and possibly rocks bearing the chemical signature of microbes from what was a lake more than three billion years ago.
“Jezero Crater is a great place, a magnificent place for science. But when I look at it from a landing perspective, I see danger. It’s a formidable challenge,” says entry, descent, and landing lead, Allen Chen.
“The site is replete with steep cliffs sides that happen to run right through the middle of the landing site. There’s sand, there’s boulders, there’s impact craters. All of these would be a bad day if we touched down on.”
The rover will store half-ounce (15-gram) rock samples in dozens of super-sterilized titanium tubes.
The plan is for NASA and the European Space Agency to launch a dune buggy in 2026 to fetch the rock samples, plus a rocket ship that will put the specimens into orbit around Mars.
Then another spacecraft will capture the orbiting samples and bring them home.
“They can be brought back to Earth by a future mission, which will allow scientists to analyze the samples in them using the full arsenal of capabilities that exist in terrestrial laboratories,” explains project scientist Ken Farley.
During NASA’s web-streamed pre-landing news conference, deputy project manager Matt Wallace showed a comparatively late addition to Perseverance – a plate honoring all the medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus battle around the world.
The COVID-19 Perseverance plate was designed in the last couple of months before launch.
The black and white aluminium plate — 3-by-5 inches (8-by-13 centimeters) — shows planet Earth atop a staff entwined with a serpent, a symbol of the medical community. The path of the spacecraft also is depicted, with its origin from Cape Canaveral.
“We’re proudly carrying this plate to Mars, so that we’ll remember back here on the Earth in the year 2020 and (20)21 that there was a community that stepped up, and bravely did their jobs so that we could do ours,” says Wallace.