Okay, but why Mars?
NASA made history once again with the landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars. While I was like all techies who were excited about the event but wondered why only NASA live carried the even, well live. But maybe it was because the image that came back from the rover (while high resolution) was kinda like letting air out of a balloon as maybe we were all expecting a martian smiling back!
Some may ask why Mars, well here is some facts about why Mars is so important:
- Its soil contains water to extract
It isn’t too cold or too hot
- There is enough sunlight to use solar panels
- Gravity on Mars is 38% that of our Earth's, which is believed by many to be sufficient for the human body to adapt to
- It has an atmosphere (albeit a thin one) that offers protection from cosmic and the Sun's radiation
- The day/night rhythm is very similar to ours here on Earth: a Mars day is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds
- The only other two celestial bodies in orbits near the Earth are our Moon and Venus.
There are far fewer vital resources on the Moon, and a Moon day takes a month. It also does not have an atmosphere to form a barrier against radiation. Venus is a veritable purgatory. The average temperature is over 400 degrees, the barometric pressure is that of 900 meters underwater on Earth, and the cherry on top comes in the form of occasional bouts of acid rain. It also has nights that last for 120 days. Humans cannot live on Mars without the help of technology, but compared to Venus it's paradise!
What about this 7 mins of terror?
Well first off just landing on Mars is quite an accomplishment! Though the Martian atmosphere is thin, it will nonetheless provide a majority of the resistance to slow Perseverance down. Within about 80 seconds of entering the Martian atmosphere, temperatures outside the aeroshell are expected to reach 1300° Celsius. Now, what is comparable to 1300° Celsius? Well, it in the liquid lava heat zone.
One way or another, Perseverance will decelerate from nearly 20,000kmph (12,500mph) – fast enough to get from London to New York in 15 minutes – to being stationary on the planet's surface. Compare that to flying from London to New York which typically takes almost 7 hours and with the now retired Concorde which flew faster than the speed of sound which took 3 hours.
About four minutes after encountering the atmosphere, the vehicle's parachutes will deploy. Shortly after, the protective aeroshell will fall away, its job is done. Then, when the vehicle descends to about 4km above the planet's surface, it will activate its Terrain Navigation System Up until this point, Perseverance's trip will be very similar to that t of the Curiosity rover, which underwent a similar “seven minutes of terror” during its successful landing in August 2012.
What can we expect from Perseverance?
Excitingly, the mission carries more cameras with it than any other interplanetary mission in history – 19 of them, which will send back breathtaking images of the Martian landscape.
Upon reaching an altitude of 2km, the rover will begin a powered descent, followed by the “skycrane” maneuver to set Perseverance down on Mars at a velocity of less than 1m/s.
Four other cameras are attached to the parts of the spacecraft involved in entry, descent and landing, meaning engineers will be able to put together a high-definition view of the landing process, as well as allowing people at home for the first time ever to watch a recording of the landing with raw and processed images.
Of course, radio transmissions from Mars take 10 minutes to reach Earth.
When will we know if Perseverance made it? Cameras on board the spacecraft will record its descent, but there will be no ability to relay this data in real time, and it will be sent a few days later. Because there is an 11-minute time delay between Earth and Mars at present, we won't know the spacecraft's fate until after it has touched down (or left a smoking hole in the surface of Mars). Touchdown is scheduled for about 3:55pm EST (20:55 UTC). With luck, a signal from the spacecraft will arrive on Earth, telling us all is well.
Perseverance has a lot in common with Curiosity in other ways. Both were built from the same design and share many common parts. But NASA learned from Curiosity about the vehicle's performance on Mars—such as the need for more durable aluminum wheels—and because of this, NASA has been able to push Perseverance further.
For example, scientists believe the Jezero crater region used to be a delta and that ancient sediments have been preserved. Perseverance carries a laser-based spectroscopy system to look for past bio-signatures.
The rover also contains a complex system that will collect and cache dozens of samples of Martian rocks in hopes that a future NASA mission to Mars will retrieve those samples and return them to Earth. NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a joint mission that would return these rocks in 2031, but it is not fully funded.
Finally, of course, the Perseverance mission will bring the small Ingenuity helicopter to the red planet. It will seek to demonstrate the first powered flight on another world. It may not work—the Martian atmosphere is very thin, and therefore producing any lift will be a challenge—but it's great to see NASA take risks that will only further propel our space adventures to greater heights.
Now, the burning questions, will there be enough room for bringing home a martian or two? Well, maybe! We have to first wrap our heads around the idea the vast area of our solar system (4.545 billion km and a 9.09 billion km diameter) may have other living beings that could range in size from a micron (it takes 70 microns for one strand of human hair). Maybe, just maybe we might have some free loading martians on the rocks that Perseverance brings back. But don’t worry NASA has accounted for this and will make sure that the rocks they bring back don't result in a new civilization taking over earth – um have I been watching too many Sci-Fi movies! But remember as well, those rocks ain't landing on earth until 2031 which means those micron martians won't be any spring chickens but instead well might be old as dust!
How to follow the Mars Mission?
While you can just turn on your favourite news, you will only be getting snippets of information and well head over to NASA to find out exactly what has been happening so far with live and recorded segments as well as interactive maps and other displays to get you so much information well you will be venturing into the tech realm – welcome aboard!
For more information about the mission, go to:
For more about NASA's Moon to Mars plans, (to tweak your tech interest even more) visit: