The joy and excitement of the successful landing of the Perseverance helicopter and the Ingenuity aircraft during a time of hardship reverberated to many around the world.
For Vandy Verma, chief engineer of perseverance robotic operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, landing day was just the beginning.
Verma specializes in remotely driving Mars rovers from here on Earth and has expertly maneuvered Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers in the past, as well as writing flight programs for them. Once the wheels of Perseverance had landed, Verma was ready to prepare the rover for its new home on another planet and help the helicopter begin its autonomous journey.
“It feels like you’ve got that massive upgrade, it’s like you’re driving a new car and it feels so smooth,” Verma said of driving the rover. “Every day on Mars, there is something unusual or unexpected. However, things went amazingly well, well beyond our expectations.”
The hardest selfie ever
The Perseverance Journey began with the sharing of the first video of a Mars landing mission and some of the first sounds humans have heard about the Red Planet, as well as beautiful images from the Perseverance camera array. Those same cameras helped capture Ingenuity’s inaugural flight as it soared through the Martian atmosphere.
Before the creativity was unleashed, the JPL team knew they wanted to take a selfie of the two robots. It was their best chance before perseverance took off to the vantage point like a proud father, ready to let the video camera roll into the Wright Brothers’ “first moment” on another planet.
But Verma said taking a selfie was such a complex endeavor that it almost never happened. Although Tenacity has a 7-foot (2.1 m) long robotic arm, the rover’s bit-carousel—which stores the historical specimens it collects—protrudes from the rover’s front, making it difficult to get the right angle. The rover team had to work through several issues to figure out how to regulate the tenacity of its massive arm without crashing into its body.
In the end, the team stitched multiple photos together to capture everyone’s favorite explorers into a distinctive selfie.
Since landing, Perseverance has recorded 2.45 miles (3,944 metres) and collected six rock samples from the intriguing Martian rocks. The rover has set and broke one-day driving distance records multiple times, traveling 1,050 feet (320 metres) on Monday, with more expected to come.
The Creativity Helicopter, designed as a bespoke experience for just five flights, has made 19 flights to the Red Planet since April. Over the summer, the creation was so successful that he graduated from an experience to become a tenacity explorer, flying over diverse terrains and discovering vehicle POIs to investigate.
The historic helicopter mission flew 2.4 miles (3,885 metres) for a total duration of 34 minutes.
Departure to the delta
Perseverance and ingenuity have spent most of the past year exploring the floor of Jezero Crater, once home to a Martian lake more than 3 billion years ago. Now, it’s time for robotic explorers to turn to their main reason for being on Mars: studying the remains of an ancient river delta that once fed the lake.
“When we chose the landing site, it was because of the delta; that’s why we’re here,” said Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary sciences at Purdue University and a scientist on the Perseverance mission. “We will spend most of next year in the delta, exploring this ancient lake and river environment and looking for signs of ancient life such as organic matter and signs of microbes.”
Trapped between layers of sediment preserved in delta rocks may be evidence of microfossils or other signs of life, if they exist on the Red Planet.
The ambitious Mars Sample Return mission, a multi-step collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, will build on innovations, such as launching from the surface of Mars for the first time, to recover rock samples collected and cached by Perseverance and return them to Earth. in the thirties.
Scientists studying these samples can answer the big question: Was there life on Mars before?
“Children generally want to learn something because it will have an impact on the world,” Verma said. “When the Mars samples go back in the 1930s, it is very likely that the scientists who will study them will be the students at school now.”
Perseverance and creativity are just the first step in exploring Mars in new ways while paving the way for future missions that could explore the possibility of life on other planets in our solar system.
“It’s an incredibly ambitious mission, with goals that go beyond any previous Mars spacecraft and any previous space mission it was supposed to do: how far are we supposed to go, how many samples are we supposed to do,” Horgan said.
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