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Whats next for Perseverance

Posted February 20, 2021 5:06 p.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2021 8:20 a.m. EST

An image from NASA of the Perseverance rover as it is lowered by the sky crane to the surface of Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The newest Martian, a robot named Perseverance, is alive and well after its first day and night on the red planet, and scientists working on the mission are eagerly scrutinizing the first images sent back to Earth by the robotic explorer. (NASA via The New York Times) — FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. —

Perseverance is safe on the surface of Mars after flying through the thin atmosphere and landing itself near the center of a 4-mile-wide landing ellipse. The smallest ever.

Though this rover is capable of driving faster than any of its predecessors, it is not quite ready to begin exploring the floor of the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater

The team will spend the first couple of Sols (a Martian day, about 40 minutes longer than and Earth day) checking out systems and carefully upgrading the rover's software. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and Mars Odyssey orbiters with some help from the European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter will help deliver data from Thursday's entry, descent and landing in the coming days.

Fireworks on Mars

The rover was fitted with a total of 76 explosive charges, 44 of those were before touchdown.

Pyrotechnics charges are a big part of spaceflight. They are used to separate rocket stages, jettison things by releasing compressed springs, and firing tiny guillotines to cut cables like those that the rover lowered itself by during landing.

The biggest explosive, equivalent to a stick of TNT, is the mortar that released the parachute from its trashcan sized container. The rest of the pyrotechnics total only about 50 to 60 grams of explosives according to Rich Webster, a pyromechanical engineer at JPL

After landing, additional pyro charges are fired to release parts of the rover secured during launch and the seven month trip from Earth. In the hours after landing, Perseverance’s mast (the “head” of the rover), a high gain antenna used to receive commands directly from Earth, protective covers on hazard avoidance cameras on the front and back of the rover, and the robotic arm were released.

In mid April, JPL plans to fire another four pyrotechnic devices, releasing the drone helicopter Ingenuity, currently stowed beneath the rover.

Touring Jezero Crater

Scientist think that the 28 mile-wide crater was created when a space rock slammed into the planet billions of years ago. Scientists believe the crater was once flooded with water hundreds of feet deep. Remains of an ancient river delta are clearly visible from orbit.

Dr. Rachel Smith who leads the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences used OpenSpace to take me on a tour of Perseverance's new home near the western edge of the crater.

OpenSpace is open source visualization software that uses real data from NASA missions. The museum collaborates in this NASA-funded project along with American Museum of Natural History in New York.

landing view of Jezero Crater

Looking northwest from a position high above the crater floor, the ridges in the distance are about 6.5 miles away and were once the shoreline of this ancient lake. The actual view the rover had as it landed was probably a lot less clear, filled with talcum-powder sized dust particles stirred up by engines on the descent stage.

Looking northwest from Perseverance's landing location

From Perseverance's landing site, looking northwest, newer, but still 3+ billion year old, shoreline is visible in the center. Scientists see evidence that river channels spilled over the crater wall carrying clay minerals from the surrounding area into the crater lake.

Conceivably, microbial life could have lived in Jezero. The rover will be looking for signs of their remains while learning more about the region formed and evolved.

ancient coastlines along the western edge of Jezero Crater

That river delta, not unlike where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico along the Louisiana coast, is visible in the center of this image looking west.

Linear sand dunes along Jezero Crater

As Perseverence's drivers plan her route along, they will take care to avoid sand dunes that could lead to traction problems. This was a lesson learned in 2009 when the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck in soft soil.

Patterns like these the sand dunes reveal a lot to scientists about winds in the area

jaw drop moment: the spot marked in this 2018 @NASAJPL video is ~300m from where Perseverance actually landed.

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