The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which has started its approach to the Red Planet, will help answer the next logical question in Mars exploration.
With only about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) left to go in its 293-million-mile (471-million-kilometer) journey, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is nearing its new planetary home. The spacecraft has begun its approach to the Red Planet and in 43 days, on Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance will blaze through Mars’ atmosphere at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph), touching down gently on the surface about seven minutes later.
“We’re working on our last adjustments to put Perseverance in perfect position to land in one of the most interesting places on Mars,” said Fernando Abilleira, deputy mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The team can’t wait to put these wheels in some Martian dirt.”
Built and managed by JPL for NASA, Perseverance will be joining another rover and lander currently at work on Mars, with several orbiters in the skies above. What sets this six-wheeled robot apart?
1. Perseverance is searching for signs of ancient life.
While the surface of Mars is a frozen desert today, scientists have learned from previous NASA missions that the Red Planet once hosted running water and warmer environments at the surface that could have supported microbial life.
“We want Perseverance to help us answer the next logical question: Are there actually signs of past microbial life on Mars?” said Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist at JPL. “This demanding goal means sending the most sophisticated robotic scientist yet to Mars.”
To tackle this question, which is key in the field of astrobiology, Perseverance carries a new suite of cutting-edge science instruments. Two of them will play a particularly important role in the search for potential signs of past life: SHERLOC (short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which can detect organic matter and minerals, and PIXL (short for Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), which maps the chemical composition of rocks and sediments. The instruments will allow scientists to analyze these features together at a higher level of detail than any Mars rover has achieved before.
Perseverance will also use some instruments to gather science data from a distance: Mastcam-Z‘s cameras can zoom in on rock textures from as far away as a soccer field, while SuperCam will use a laser to zap rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to study their composition in the resulting vapor. RIMFAX (short for Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) will use radar waves to probe geological features underground.
2. The rover is landing in a place with a high potential for finding these signs of past microbial life.
Terrain that is interesting to scientists can be challenging to land on. Thanks to new technologies that enable Perseverance to target its landing site more accurately and to autonomously avoid landing hazards, the spacecraft can safely touch down in a place as intriguing as Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) basin that has steep cliffs, sand dunes, and boulder fields.
More than 3.5 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water about the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediments in a fan shape known as a delta. The Perseverance science team believes this ancient river delta and lake deposits could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life.
3. Perseverance is also collecting important data about Mars’ geology and climate.
Context is everything. Mars orbiters have been collecting images and data from Jezero Crater from about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above, but finding signs of ancient life on the surface requires much closer inspection. It requires a rover like Perseverance.
Understanding Mars’ past climate conditions and reading the geological history embedded in its rocks will give scientists a richer sense of what the planet was like in its distant past. Studying the Red Planet’s geology and climate could also give us a sense of why Earth and Mars – despite some early similarities – ended up so different.
4. Perseverance is the first leg of a round trip to Mars.
The verification of ancient life on Mars carries an enormous burden of proof. Perseverance is the first rover to bring a sample caching system to Mars in order to package promising samples for return to Earth by a future mission.
Rather than pulverizing rock the way the drill on NASA’s Curiosity rover does, Perseverance’s drill will cut intact rock cores that are about the size of a piece of chalk and will place them in sample tubes that it will store until the rover reaches an appropriate drop-off location on Mars. The rover could also potentially deliver the samples to a lander that is part of the planned Mars sample return campaign by NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency).
Once the samples are here on Earth, we can examine them with instruments too large and complex to send to Mars, providing far more information about them than even the most sophisticated rover could.
5. Perseverance carries instruments and technology that will help pave the way for human missions to the Moon and Mars.
Among the future-looking technologies on this mission that will benefit human exploration is Terrain-Relative Navigation. As part of the spacecraft’s landing system, Terrain-Relative Navigation will enable the descending spacecraft to quickly and autonomously comprehend its location over the Martian surface and modify its trajectory.
Perseverance will also have more autonomy on the surface than any other rover, including self-driving smarts that will allow it to cover more ground in a day’s operations with fewer instructions from engineers on Earth. This fast-traverse capability will make exploration of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies more efficient for other vehicles.
In addition, Perseverance carries a technology experiment called MOXIE (short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) that will produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere. It will demonstrate a way that future explorers might produce oxygen for rocket propellant as well as for breathing.
Two other instruments will help engineers design systems for future human explorers to land and survive on Mars: The MEDLI2 (Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2) package is a next-generation version of what flew on the Mars Science Laboratory mission that delivered the Curiosity rover, while the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) instrument suite provides information about weather, climate, and surface ultraviolet radiation and dust.
Perseverance is also giving a ride to the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. A technology experiment separate from the rover’s science mission, Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled aircraft flight at another world. If the helicopter is successful in its 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) demonstration window, the data could help future explorations of the Red Planet – including those by astronauts – by adding a new aerial dimension.
6. The Perseverance rover embodies the NASA – and the scientific – spirit of overcoming challenges.
Getting the spacecraft to the launch pad during a pandemic, searching for signs of ancient life, collecting samples, and proving new technologies are no easy feats. Nor is a soft touchdown on Mars: Only about 50% of Martian landing attempts, by any space agency, have been successful.
The mission team draws inspiration from the name of its rover, with particular awareness of the challenges the entire world is experiencing at this time. With that in mind, the mission installed a special plate to honor the dedication and hard work of the medical community and first responders around the globe. The team hopes to inspire the entire world, and future explorers, to forge new paths and make discoveries on which the next generation can build.
7. You will get to ride along.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission carries more cameras than any interplanetary mission in history, with 19 cameras on the rover itself and four on other parts of the spacecraft involved in entry, descent, and landing. As with previous Mars missions, the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission plans to make raw and processed images available on the mission’s website.
If all goes well, the public will be able to experience in high-definition what it’s like to land on Mars – and hear the sounds of landing for the first time with an off-the-shelf microphone affixed to the side of the rover. Another microphone on SuperCam will help scientists understand the property of rocks the instrument is examining and can also listen to the wind.
If you are among the 10.9 million people who signed up to send your name to Mars, your name is stenciled on one of three silicon chips embedded on a plate on the rover that carries the words “Explore as one” in Morse code.
You can also follow Perseverance’s adventure on social media via @NASAPersevere and @NASAMars on Twitter and Facebook, and the hashtag #CountdownToMars.
JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.
For more about Perseverance, visit:
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
First private space crew paying $55 million each to fly to station – Gulf News
Cape Canaveral, Florida: The first private space station crew was introduced Tuesday: Three men who are each paying $55 million to fly on a SpaceX rocket.
They’ll be led by a former NASA astronaut now working for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the trip for next January.
“This is the first private flight to the International Space Station. It’s never been done before,” said Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini, a former space station program manager for NASA.
While mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria is well known in space circles, “the other three guys are just people who want to be able to go to space, and we’re providing that opportunity,” Suffredini told The Associated Press.
The first crew will spend eight days at the space station, and will take one or two days to get there aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule following liftoff from Cape Canaveral.
Russia has been in the off-the-planet tourism business for years, selling rides to the International Space Station since 2001. Other space companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plan to take paying customers on up-and-down flights lasting just minutes. These trips _ much more affordable with seats going for hundreds of thousands versus millions _ could kick off this year.
Axiom’s first customers include Larry Connor, a real estate and tech entrepreneur from Dayton, Ohio, Canadian financier Mark Pathy and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, a close friend of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003.
“These guys are all very involved and doing it for kind of for the betterment of their communities and countries, and so we couldn’t be happier with this makeup of the first crew because of their drive and their interest,” Suffredini said.
Each of these first paying customers intends to perform science research in orbit, he said, along with educational outreach.
Lopez-Alegria, a former space station resident and spacewalking leader, called the group a “collection of pioneers.”
Tom Cruise was mentioned last year as a potential crew member” NASA top officials confirmed he was interested in filming a movie at the space station. There was no word Tuesday on whether Cruise will catch the next Axiom flight. Suffredini declined to comment.
Each of the private astronauts had to pass medical tests and will get 15 weeks of training, according to Suffredini. The 70-year-old Connor will become the second-oldest person to fly in space, after John Glenn’s shuttle flight in 1998 at age 77. He’ll also serve under Lopez-Alegria as the capsule pilot.
Axiom plans about two private missions a year to the space station. It also is working to launch its own live-in compartments to the station beginning in 2024. This section would be detached from the station once it’s retired by NASA and the international partners, and become its own private outpost.
Eytan Stibbe among Axiom's first private crew to visit space station – Space in Africa
The founding director of Vital Capital Fund, Eytan Stibbe, is one of the four people that will be going on the first-ever entirely private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Stibbe has been investing in Africa for the past 26 years.
Axiom Space, an American aerospace manufacturer and orbital spaceflight service provider, announced the private crew on Tuesday. Joining Stibbe on the proposed Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) are former astronaut of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Axiom’s vice president Michael López-Alegría; American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor; and Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy.
Both Pathy and Stibbe will fly as the mission specialists, while López-Alegría will fly as commander and Connor will fly as the pilot. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will serve as Ax-1’s backup commander and John Shoffner of Knoxville is the backup pilot.
The Ax-1 is expected to launch as soon as January 2022, using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Axiom said Ax-1 is its first “precursor” private astronaut missions to the ISS—subject to approval from NASA and its international partners. It is also working NASA are working on the final approval for a formal Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) to enable private astronaut missions, with further discussions underway to agree on and authorise the Ax-1 mission profile.
The Ax-1 mission, which is to a Low Earth Orbit destination (LEO), would allow the four-man crew to carry out research and philanthropic projects for eight days. According to NASA’s 2019 pricing policy on private astronaut flights to the ISS, each night costs $35,000 per person. This cost includes $11,250 to use life support system and toilet, $22,500 for other necessary supplies like food, air, and medical supplies.
Each member of the first private crew, however, is paying $55 million. This ticket price includes “any and all necessary costs”, an Axiom spokesperson told The Verge.
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group”, Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate expansive future for humans in space—and make a meaningful difference in the world”.
Stibbe will be the second Israeli to launch into space, following his friend Ilan Ramon who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. At age 63, Stibbe will be the third oldest person to enter orbit.
According to the statement by Axiom, Stibbe plans to conduct scientific experiments of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs coordinated by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. He will also undertake educational activities from orbit to inspire Israeli children, youth, and educators.
While Stibbe has over 26 years of investing in Africa, Vital Capital was launched in 2011 as a $350 million impact investment, private equity fund focused on sub-Saharan Africa. The portfolio companies of Vital Capital include Aldeia Nova, an agro-industrial company, Kora Housing, Luanda Medical Centre, Vital Tomosi’s Dairy, WaterHealth International, Capital Water, Focal Energy, Prabon Greenfields, Water for All, Sumbe-Gabela-Waku-Kungo (SWGK), 8 Miles, and Vital Capital Environment. Through investment in these companies, Vital Capital has delivered essential development impact to millions of individuals in low- and middle-income communities.
Stibbe is a board member of the Centre for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and other non-governmental organisations dedicated to education, art and culture.
Pathy will be the 11th Canadian astronaut going into the orbit. He is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency as well as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping to identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission.
Connor will collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Cleaveland Clinic on research projects. He also intends to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academic in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
“This collection of pioneers—the first space crew of its kind—represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress”, López-Alegría said. “I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth. And as much as any astronauts who have come before them, the members of this crew have accomplished the sorts of things in life that equip them to accept that responsibility, act on that revelation, and make a truly global impact”.
SpaceX launches 143 spacecraft, a record for a single launch – SatelliteProME.com
The rocket ferried 133 commercial and government spacecraft, as well as 10 Starlink satellites.
SpaceX has launched a batch of 143 spacecraft into space under the company’s new cost-cutting SmallSat Rideshare Programme, breaking the record for the most satellites deployed on a single mission. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10 a.m. EST.
A collection of 143 satellites as part of SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare mission over the experienced launcher, is called Transporter-1.
The rocket ferried 133 commercial and government spacecraft. SpaceX, acting like a cosmic carpool, dispatched its own 10 satellites into space Starlink Internet Satellites. Flat-panelled Starlink satellites are expected to be deposited in a unique polar orbit – a first for the broadband fleet, which will serve customers in Alaska and other polar regions.
The launch carried payloads for Planet, Swarm Technologies, Kepler Communications, Spire, Capella Space, ICEYE, NASA, and a host of other customers from 11 countries. The payloads ranged in size from CubeSats to microsatellites weighing several hundred pounds.
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