This is something that brings back memories for me. Eight and a half years ago–in fact only a month before I started this blog–I watched the landing of the Curiosity rover at the Planetary Society’s Planetfest event in Pasadena. It was a massive and euphoric two-day event attended by luminaries from Bill Nye (CEO of the Planetary Society) on down.
Today, of course, we’re living in a very different world, and there are no massive celebrations for Perseverance (although the Kennedy Space Center is apparently holding an in-person event), but the landing is still going forward. Also, the rover’s name feels so much more meaningful than it did a year ago when it beat out my first choice of Ingenuity, (which happily was still given to the helicopter it carries).
As an aside, I still can’t get over the fact that we’re going to fly a helicopter on Mars in harsher conditions than anyone has ever flown a helicopter on Earth!
Perseverance is basically a Curiosity chassis with better instruments on it, including ground-penetrating radar, a test oxygen production system, an ultraviolet spectrometer capable of spotting organic compounds, and a sample return system (to be picked up by a future mission). Since it’s the same design, in order to land, it will need to do a repeat of Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror,” in a Rube Goldberg-esque process where it will be lowered on a cable from a rocket-powered crane.
That still sounds like something a ten-year-old would come up with, but it’s not; they’ve already done it once!
But this time, they have to do it while carrying 14% more weight, and on much rougher terrain. To do that, this will be the first camera-controlled automated landing of a spacecraft. It’s going to be a wild ride, and it’ll be streamed on NASA Live starting at 12:30 PM EST. Or if you want to keep up the tradition, you can check out the Planetary Society’s live stream starting at 2:30.
Godspeed to Perseverance. Here’s to the next step in the Final Frontier.