On 18th February NASA landed Perseverance, a rover, on Mars to explore the terrain around the landing site and search for signs that there may have been life on the Red Planet in the past.
That may not sound like much, but consider these facts:
- The car-sized rover was launched by rocket on 30th July 2020 on board an Atlas V rocket.
- The journey from Earth to Mars took almost 7 months and covered a distance of 292.5 million miles – this was not an easy task as the two planets are not at a constant distance from each other!
- Perseverance was carrying a small helicopter, called Ingenuity, which will be flown to investigate flight in a thinner atmosphere – this is the first that a craft has ever been flown in Martian air.
- The estimated cost of the project is $2.46 billion
- The rover began sending back colour images from the surface of Mars within the first day of landing and used a network of other spacecraft to relay a video of its landing back to Earth.
The collaboration that has had to take place between the different departments within NASA to achieve this has been immense. There has also been international cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency) and Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency) whose Trace Gas Orbiter is one of the craft relaying messages back to Earth.
The landing of a robotic rover on another planet is just another small move to exploring and understanding the Solar System and to potentially getting people to Mars sometime in the future – a mission backed by former NASA astronaut Dr Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the surface of the Moon, (and after whom the character Buzz Lightyear was named!).
To understand more about the challenges that could be faced by a manned mission to Mars, you could watch the movie The Martian (2015) starring Matt Damon, or read the book of the same title that it was based on by Andy Weir, (as with most movies, the book is far better!).
Who knows, perhaps one of the first few people to go to Mars and make their home on the Red Planet is someone who is reading this?
Until next time, Keep calm and apply some Science!