This past Friday marked one Earth year since NASA’s Perseverance rover and its Ingenuity helicopter touched down on Mars. Seattle’s Museum of Flight is the first site to exhibit NASA’s full-scale replicas of the rover and helicopter, and both are in the spotlight this weekend at the museum as part of an anniversary celebration.
Dr. Melissa Rice kicked off the weekend’s events by talking about the mission, which aims to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples. Rice, an associate professor of planetary science at Western Washington University, works on the rover’s Mastcam-Z imaging system, the first set of zoom cameras on the Red Planet.
Rice worked the “Martian night shift,” which meant progressively pushing out her sleep schedule 60-to-90 minutes every night to process what the rover collected during the Martian day. That surprised some of her friends and neighbors when they saw her wide awake at times she normally wouldn’t be.
Rice said her favorite part of the mission is seeing images immediately when they are downloaded.
Some analysis is performed by the rover itself, but Perseverance is also a sample-caching rover. The first sample tube Perseverance collected turned out to be empty, which was a disappointment to the team, Rice said. However, it also worked out because researchers needed an atmospheric sample.
In around ten years a proposed sample-return lander will collect the samples left by Perseverance and launch them to orbit in a Mars ascent rocket.
Retrieving the samples from the surface will involve the first rocket launched from Mars. The proposed third phase would involve a Mars orbiter capturing the sample capsule that was launched from the surface and then returning it to Earth.
Another NASA anniversary this weekend: Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of America’s first orbital spaceflight. On Feb. 20, 1962 astronaut John Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission Mercury capsule, dubbed Friendship 7, three times around the earth. A reproduction of the Mercury capsule can be viewed at the museum.