On Thursday, February 18, the Perseverance rover successfully landed at Jezero Crater on Mars after a six-and-a-half-month journey from Earth. The landing represented the culmination of years of mission design, planning, and preparation by hundreds of people involved in the project.
Perseverance brings the total number of successful NASA probe landings on Mars to nine. Previous landings included Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976. There was a twenty-one-year gap before the next lander, Pathfinder, in 1997. Pathfinder also carried the very first Mars rover named Sojourner. In 2004, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity arrived on Mars, they were followed by the Phoenix Lander in 2008. In 2012 the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity landed at Gale Crater. The last successful landing before Perseverance was the solar powered Insight Lander in 2018. Only one NASA lander has been unsuccessful and crashed, the Mars Polar Lander in December 1999.
Perseverance’s design is based largely on Curiosity, but with additional instruments such as a microphone to record sounds, and a new sample caching system. This is a system that allows Perseverance to take core samples of rocky material on the surface of Mars and carefully seal them in very sterile, clean vessels, for eventual return to Earth. A separate vehicle will need to be sent to Mars in the future to retrieve these carefully selected samples. The Perseverance rover itself will not return to Earth.
Perseverance also carries a small helicopter drone called Ingenuity that is primarily a technology demonstrator. Ingenuity will attempt the first atmospheric flight on Mars. The first flight should take place sometime within the first 30 days after landing. Up to five flights may eventually be conducted.
The Perseverance landing marks the first time that recorded video was captured of the landing sequence, including the descent to the surface, parachute deployment, and the skycrane system in operation. While providing spectacular views of the landing, these videos will also help the engineers in evaluating designs for future landing systems.
Hopefully, we are at the beginning of a very long mission. The primary mission is designed to last at least one Martian year or about 687 days. Perseverance’s nuclear power source should last 14 years though. The Curiosity rover uses the same type of power system. It landed on August 6, 2012 and is still going strong over 8 years later. Based on that result, Perseverance’s mission should last for years to come!