NASA’s Perseverance completes 1st year on Mars

Washington: NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully completed the first year since touching down on Mars on February 18, 2021.

Weighing roughly 1,025 kgs, Perseverance is the heaviest rover ever to safely land on Mars, and also return with dramatic videos of its landing.

The six-wheeled scientist achieved many insights on the Red Planet including the first rock core samples from another planet (it’s carrying six, so far).

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The rover served as an indispensable base station for Ingenuity, the first helicopter on Mars, and tested MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment), the first prototype oxygen generator on the Red Planet, NASA said.

Perseverance also recently broke a record for the most distance driven by a Mars rover in a single day, travelling almost 1,050 feet (320 meters) on February 14, 2022, the 351st Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

And it performed the entire drive using AutoNav, the self-driving software that allows Perseverance to find its own path around rocks and other obstacles.

The rover has nearly wrapped up its first science campaign in Jezero Crater, a location that contained a lake billions of years ago and features some of the oldest rocks Mars scientists have been able to study up close.

“The samples Perseverance has been collecting, will provide a key chronology for the formation of Jezero Crater,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement.

“Each one is carefully considered for its scientific value,” he added.

Two more samples will be collected in the coming weeks from the “Ch’al” rock type (named with the Navajo term for “frog”), a set of dark, rubbly rocks representative of what’s seen across much of the crater floor, NASA said.

If samples of these rocks are returned to Earth, scientists think they could provide an age range for Jezero’s formation and the lake that was once there.

“Right now, we take what we know about the age of impact craters on the Moon and extrapolate that to Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance’s deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the rover mission.

“Bringing back a sample from this heavily cratered surface in Jezero could provide a tie-point to calibrate the Mars crater dating system independently, instead of relying solely on the lunar one,” Morgan added.

The rover now looks forward to other important accomplishments in store as it speeds toward its new destination and a new science campaign.

It will characterise Mars’ geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

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