by Lindsay Mullins ’24
The Perseverance Mars Rover launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 30, 2020. The trip to Mars took almost 7 months, leaving the Earth at speeds of around 24,600 miles per hour. On February 18, Perseverance successfully landed at the Jezero crater. We have yet to find out the exact date for the return of the Perseverance Rover to Earth, but if everything goes according to plan, it will be sometime in 2031. 1
The Perseverance Rover has actually had a little Wildcat help in getting to Mars. Kathrine Winchell is an AMHS alumnus, and she attended Western Washington University. It was there that she got involved with all of the Mars missions and other experiences. During an interview with Kathrine in April, she tells us what she has been doing for the Perseverance Rover. “After completing my degree in geology, I moved to San Diego to work at a company that builds and operates cameras for spacecraft. These cameras, the Mastcam and Mastcam-Z on the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, are the same types of scientific multispectral cameras that I used data from for my undergraduate research. On the Perseverance rover, I am also operating the WATSON camera, which is on the robotic arm of the rover.” These cameras that Kathrine worked on have provided us with some amazing pictures of the surface of Mars!
Mars.nasa.gov tells us that the main job of Perseverance is to seek signs of ancient life and to collect samples of rock for a possible return to Earth. The spacecraft that transports Perseverance to Mars consists of several mechanical parts: the cruise stage, the descent stage, the backshell, the heat shield, and then the rover itself. These pieces will separate in different stages during the entry, descent, and landing process. The cruise stage supports the whole vehicle during the long flight to Mars, keeping it powered up, on target, and in communication. The backshell and the heat shield form the aeroshell, which protects the rover during the turbulent descent to Mars. The backshell also contains the parachute that is released during the descent. The descent stage is a free-flying “jetpack”. It separates from the backshell and uses eight engines to slow down the descent. The rover itself has six-wheels, and is loaded with cameras and science instruments for exploration on the surface of Mars. Finally, the heat shield also helps to slow the vehicle down during its final approach. It also protects the rover inside from the intense heat while entering the Martian atmosphere; the heat shield can be exposed to temperatures as hot as 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit. A lot of work had to be put into the Mars Rover to allow for a safe landing on Mars.
According to wlns.com, the Perseverance Rover resembles its older “sibling” rovers in many ways. The other Mars rovers include the Sojourner, which launched in 1997, the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which both launched in 2003, and the Curiosity, which launched in 2012. However, the Perseverance Rover is larger and heavier, and in place of the onboard laboratory, the Perseverance has a sample-catching system to collect rocks and soil and prepare them for the return trip. This will be the first time that we have ever taken a piece of another planet back to Earth! NASA has come a long way since the launch of the first Mars Rover in 1997. Hopefully all upcoming missions are a success, and we can see the Perseverance Rover return to Earth in 2031.