TANGO DELTA NOMINAL – Touchdown Confirmed

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A panorama taken by MASTCAM-Z, the main science camera.

Cole Wilson, Journalist

      “Tango Delta Nominal – touchdown confirmed!” said NASA aerospace engineer Swati Moha. On February 18th, 2021, NASA landed the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. This massive achievement puts a huge amount of scientific equipment on the Red Planet. Not only will these machines pave the way for future rover missions, but the equipment onboard will provide completely new insights on our planetary neighbor.

      Some of the equipment that landed with Perseverance includes, but is not limited to, a portable oxygen maker, a sample caching system, high definition movie color cameras, and microphones! The rover also carries two open source Linux computers, and is the first of its kind to have open source computing capabilities.

     Perseverance’s main mission is to find ancient remnants of microbial life, a problem that has captivated scientist’s minds for decades. “ Astrobiologists have found evidence of water on Mars and therefore believe that it is possible that ancient microbes could have flourished in those waters.”, says Mrs. Halsey, honors biology teacher at OHS. Its landing site, Jezero crater, is one of the only known spots on Mars where there was once a lake. This makes it a likely spot for evidence of lifeforms, if there are any. While this may be true, it’s not the easiest landing site. Despite the touchy landing site, Perseverance performed spectacularly, landing in exactly the right place using its Terrain-Relative Navigation computer, another advancement on rover technology. “Perseverance will also be collecting data that can be used to establish future human life on Mars. It will be testing methods for producing Oxygen in the Martian atmosphere, looking for subsurface water sources, and testing technology that may help in future missions to land humans on Mars,” says Mrs. Halsey.

    Perhaps the most exciting development yet with the rover is its video of it’s entry descent and landing process (EDL). Perseverance captured high definition video at 75 FPS of its parachute deployment, backshell and heatshield separation, the Skycrane maneuver, and the landing itself. This technique, the “Skycrane” was a revolutionary technique used in the landing of Curiosity, Perseverance’s predecessor. The idea was invented by the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and involves using a jetpack to lower the rover to the surface. Previous ways involved huge balloons, or something that resembled a lunar lander. While the Skycrane worked on Curiosity, it wasn’t necessarily going to work on Perseverance. “The rover landing required years and years of testing, calculations, revisions, collaboration, MORE revisions and even MORE testing in order to launch.”, says Mrs. Halsey.  

     Going forward, Perseverance still has to go on its first drive, and undergo thorough diagnostic checks, including updating it’s flight software. This process will likely take a long time, but in the meantime images keep flooding the raw image pipeline on NASA’s website. Around sol (Mars day) 65, Ingenuity, the helicopter that landed with Perseverance will likely take its first flight. “The margin for error was extremely slim and yet it worked! It just emphasizes the effectiveness of the scientific process and the optimism of the human spirit.”, Mrs. Halsey. In the far future, further Mars missions will also land at Jezero crater, and hopefully collect samples Perseverance has taken and send them back to Earth. In the meantime, be sure to see all of the amazing images sent back every day at mars.nasa.gov as this extremely huge step for science unfolds.