July 30th, 2020
Under clear skies in Florida this morning N.A.S.A launched their latest Mars rover “Perseverance” and another new tool in their search for life on the Red Planet, the “Ingenuity”.
The high tech duo began their journey early this morning but will not set down on the Martian soil until February 18th,2021.
The rover vehicle and it’s companion “Ingenuity”, a small helicopter, will land on the Mars surface in the same fashion the last rover landed, using the “Sky Crane” system developed by N.A.S.A. The “Sky Crane” system uses a rocket power platform and gently lowers the vehicles to the planet’s surface.
The Perseverance Rover, which is about the size of a car, has many new features and a greatly expanded mission than it’s predecessors. Perseverance has 20 high tech cameras and for the first time, a microphone, that will allow scientists to hear sounds from the plant’s surface.
In addition, N.A.S.A’s latest rover is designed to take samples of the soil and place the soil in containers that can be retrieved by another rover in the future and return to earth for testing. Perseverance also has a device onboard that will test to see if it is possible to generate oxygen from the Carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars. The oxygen can be used as fuel to power spacecraft, which visit the distant planet, back home to earth. The Martian atmosphere is 95.3 percent Carbon dioxide.
If that were not enough the Perseverance has a small helicopter named “Ingenuity” attached to it which it will deploy and control. Since the time it takes for radio signals to reach Mars from Earth is too long to effectively control the tiny helicopter the Perseverance will control the Ingenuity directly.
Weighing less than four pounds with the main body the size of a softball, the Ingenuity was designed to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere but has never been tested in such a “thin” air environment as Mars. The Martian atmosphere is equivalent to atmosphere at about 100,000 feet high on Earth – an altitude that no Earth-based helicopter has reached even half that distance. Ingenuity was also designed to withstand the bitterly cold Martian nights where temperatures plunge to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit, however, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is confident the craft will perform well.
Although there’s no room for any science experiments on Ingenuity one N.A.S.A’s engineer pointed out “This is just a demonstration of technology to show that flying on Mars is possible, but eventually we’d like to design and fly a helicopter on Mars that actually has a science mission,” N.A.S.A. believes that a vehicle, like a small helicopter with instrumentation on board and soil collection capability, would greatly increase the information they could glean from a planet and give them a greater return on our investment.
The launch of the Atlas rocket this morning went off without a hitch despite an earthquake that shook Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, a key support facility for the Mars mission. The 4.5 magnitude earthquake struck just minutes before the lift-off of the rocket from Florida’s coast.