Much of the excitement has settled now that Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is safely on the surface of Mars after the 18 Feb 2021 landing. I gathered images and links to a collection of things I feel tell the story of this rover in a not too complicated way. The mission is very challenging. A primary goal is to find evidence that microbial life may have existed on the Martian surface in the past.
Perseverance is undergoing system checks for the many sophisticated tools it carries while imaging the surroundings. Scientists are eager to begin moving the rover across the ground and to test the helicopter Ingenuity it carried under the chassis.
Touchdown in Jezero Crater
You might wonder where Perseverance landed and why is that place is important. Landing took place in Jezero Crater. The crater is about 49 km (30 mi) across. It is believed to have once been filled with water. This image shows a dried riverbed and delta of a water source that once flowed left-to-right and filled the crater. The colors are indicators of various types of mineral deposits and not actual colors. The rover landed in the lower right quadrant of this image just below the two side-by-side small craters on the flat plain and not far from the delta formation.
This much closer image from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter MRO was taken just after the rover landed. The rover and other components of the landing system are indicated.
While Perseverance descended by parachute, MRO was in orbit over the region relaying radio data back to Earth. It captured this amazing image of the descending parachute and rover during the fly-over. The small circle below-right of center is near the eventual landing site. The delta is left of center.
In the months ahead, after the rover is checked-out and ready to go, its path of exploration will take it along the edge of the delta and up on top. The green line in this image is a possible route. The final route will change as scientists make discoveries along the way. Instruments are designed to look for traces of ancient microbial life that might have lived in the waters above and in the delta. The rover is capable of leaving caches of samples for return to Earth in a future mission several years from now.
You can use this interactive tool or click the image below to look around the landing site. The tool allows you to zoom in and out as well as pan left and right. The high mountains in the distance are on the rim of Jezero Crater.
Entry Descent and Landing
Getting Perseverance safely to the ground from high velocity orbit was an amazing achievement. It entered the thin atmosphere going 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). The parachute opened in less than a second at about 14 sec into the video. Actual deployment is on the right and footage of it slowed down is on the left. At 32 sec the heat shield falls away exposing the rover beneath the rocket powered descent stage. At 1:20 the delta is visible in the right half of the frame. The landing site near two craters is visible in the left half of the frame. At 2:07 the parachute is released which initiates firing of the 8 rocket engines on the descent stage. They burn while slowing the fall to near zero velocity. At 2:43 dust starts flying at the landing site. At 2:50 the rover is lowered down toward the surface on cables. The lower left view looks down at the rover as it nears the surface. The upper left view looks up from the rover toward the rocket powered sky crane in the descent stage. At 3:07 touchdown occurs, the cables are released, and the rocket stage flies far off in the distance for a crash as intended. Jubilation ensues. People breathe again.
You might have read about a secret message coded into the stripes of the parachute. The asymmetrical striping helps the engineers detect and measure rotations and wobbles of the chute. But, they also included a binary type of code saying Dare Mighty Things, from a Teddy Roosevelt speech. The outer ring gave GPS coordinates for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. That is where the rover was built and the project is managed.
The Sols Ahead
It will take weeks and months before Perseverance begins moving about. Each sol, experiments and equipment will be tested and become operational. The first drive will be a few feet forward and back.
Martian days are called sols. and are 40 min longer than Earth days. (1 sol = 24 h 39 m 35.2 s) Most scientific operations by the rovers on Mars take place during the daytime. As we do here on Earth, people involved in daily schedules arrive at work and leave at about the same times each day. Work schedules for people involved with the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers are set according to the sol length of Mars. They arrive and leave work about 40 minutes later each day compared to Earth time. Imagine how challenging that might be as you try to coordinate your Martian work schedule with the Earth schedules of the people in other parts of your life.
Quoting from a NASA article about working during sols:
Remaining awake the additional 39 minutes every day results in a phase delay further complicated by a rotating shift work schedule. The human body’s circadian system programs humans to live on a 24-hour cycle being awake during the day and asleep at night. This 24-hour cycle of sleep/wake patterns also is affected by light exposure, acting as a time giver for the circadian system. Therefore, trying to sleep during the day while being exposed to daylight levels can result in sleep difficulties and trying to work at night when it is dark can result in performance decrements. This is due to misalignments of the circadian and sleep systems, which are out of sync with the environmental time cues.
Press release with two first-ever audio files from the rover.
Update by mission experts about the rover on 22 Feb 2021.
The TV program NOVA broadcast an excellent description of the Perseverance mission.
Access to raw images from the rover.