Mars is a fascinating planet, and even though it may seem like we know a lot about it, there's still so much to investigate about this galactic, rocky palace. So far, NASA has sent five exploration rovers dedicated to collecting evidence on Mars. These rovers have all been completely autonomous and self-suppliant. These rovers include the Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the latest one that landed on Mars's surface, the Perseverance Rover. On February 18 of this year, the Perseverance Rover, launched about more than half a year ago, successfully landed and captured a few pictures of Mars’ surface ground. The celebratory applause and content elbow high-fives was surely a sight to watch. Even though it seemed space exploration would come to a halt due to the ongoing pandemic, these scientists put years worth of testing and reiterating onto another planet about 225 billion miles away.
Science is the study of testing and fixing, and testing and more testing. The Perseverance Rover was essentially a bigger, better version of the Curiosity Rover. The Curiosity Rover was designed to investigate the Gale crater yet it had a multitude of problems. According to Dawn Sumner, a Curiosity team member, “‘Partway through its last set of activities, Curiosity lost its orientation. Some knowledge of its altitude was not quite right, so it couldn't make the essential safety evaluation.’” The rover itself couldn’t accurately measure its altitude or its correlation to its environment. Additionally, it had issues with its memory capabilities and problems with its wheels. Despite its many problems, Curiosity was resilient, it's still functional and currently still investigating Mars’ surface. But Perseverance’s goal was to eliminate the mistakes its ancestors made.
Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020. It was equipped with a new power system that doubled Curiosity’s energy output because of its size increase. It has a radioisotope power system which uses heat from plutonium’s radioactive decay as “fuel.” The power system, called the "Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator" or MMRTG for short, allows the rover to operate in a variety of different environments and conditions. This supplies a huge amount of electricity, powering robotic arms, drilling instruments, charging batteries, and all the while communicating with Earth. As with every other rover sent to Mars, Perseverance is trying to find signs of life. It's collecting samples and dropping them in planned locations for the next exploration rover to pick up and send back. And while all of that may be riveting, a new piece of Wright Brothers technology has also been sent to Mars. Along with the rover, a remote-control helicopter. The helicopter's name is Ingenuity and its intended to make the first powered flight on another planet beyond ours. Ingenuity will be trying out its first test flight around April 8. The flight will be completely controlled from here on Earth.
Well what happens if Ingenuity triumphantly lifts off? The success of such a task would open so many new doors of possibilities, including risk assessment and carrying materials from place to place. We could send bigger aircrafts and the main exploration rover would be able to avoid obstacles that Ingenuity could scout from the air. In the future, remote-controlled vehicles might even be able to repair damage and pick up samples as well. In order for these opportunities to be available, Perseverance must deploy Ingenuity in a safe, and in area with mostly flat ground. The communication between Earth and Ingenuity must be stable as well, and hopefully no unexpected dust storms would disrupt its flight. Workers in Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab have been working nonstop since its launch to ensure that Ingenuity delivers its purpose, liftoff. These hard workers deserve tremendous support, and we can convey it by cheering on Ingenuity as it takes flight in the next week or so!