The final Martian resident set to arrive this month has finally touched down on the red planet where it will spend the rest of its days.
That resident is of course, NASA’s rover Perseverance and its drone companion Ingenuity.
Following a journey that started in July 2020, the rover spent seven minutes plunging through the Martian atmosphere.
The spacecraft hit the atmosphere at around 19 473kph. The rover itself was protected by a heat shield and slowed down by a parachute. Of course, slowing down from that speed takes more than a piece of material so six thrusters helped slow the vessel down to just 3kph.
You can see the first images snapped by the rover below.
The Perseverance rover was then lowered in place with a sky crane which has been used to lower rovers onto Martian soil since the Curiosity rover.
Once touchdown was confirmed, the NASA team behind the landing erupted in applause.
Now, Perseverance is in the area where it will conduct research including collecting and analysing soil samples.
The area the rover will explore is known as the Jezero Crater and it’s believed that the crater was once filled with water, over 3.5 billion years ago. The goal is to retrieve samples and return them to Earth at a later stage. Perseverance won’t be returning the samples but it lays the foundation for that mission to happen. This video explains the details of that future mission and what role Perseverance plays in it.
But wait, there’s more.
Remember that drone we mentioned, Ingenuity, well it’s important for two reasons. For one it will be the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. The second reason it’s important is that it will act as a scout of sorts, allowing NASA to reach areas Perseverance may not be able to.
Ingenuity is a spectacular feat of engineering.
It has a rotor span of 1.2 metres, stands half a metre tall and it weighs just 1.8kg. The drone can fly for 90 seconds and has a maximum altitude of between three and five metres. The maximum distance it can travel is 300 metres.
The drone is solar-powered but very little of that power is used for flight. In fact, most of the power is used to keep the internals of the drone warm during the freezing Martian nights.
If you want to find out more about Ingenuity, we highly recommend this video which takes a closer look at the design, engineering and of course the team that made this feat possible.
For all the faults of humanity, looking at the images taken by a rover on a planet over 200 million kilometres away, we can’t help but feel a twinge of pride at what scientists and engineers can accomplish.
Science really is awesome.
[Image – NASA/Bill Ingalls]