NASA scientists have confirmed that their car-sized Perseverance Mars rover is 'healthy' following its arrival on the planet's surface on February 18th, 2021. And already, the rover has beamed back images from the red planet.
NASA scientists have called Perseverance the most ambitious of almost 20 US missions to Mars since the Mariner spacecraft's 1965 fly-by. At a cost of $2.7 billion, the two-year mission aims to search for fossilized signs of microbes from roughly 3 billion years ago. Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments for future analysis on Earth. These will then be retrieved from two subsequent missions to Mars within the next decade.
"Of all the steps needed to develop life, how many occurred on Mars? This [mission] tells us not only about whether we're alone in the solar system but also about how likely we are to find life in the thousands of other planets being discovered around other suns – so [it] has truly cosmic implications," says Colin Wilson, a physicist at Oxford University.
Among new instruments and an upgraded autopilot system, engineers equipped Perseverance with a diminutive helicopter called 'Ingenuity'. Weighing just 1.8kg, it is hoped that the helicopter will serve as a pathfinder to discover otherwise inaccessible areas or as a scout for future rovers.
In the days to come, engineers will delve into Perseverance's system data, update its software and begin to test its instruments. After this, in the following weeks, the engineers will begin to test its robotic arm and take its first drive. Then, after a month or two, Perseverance will find a flat location to drop off Ingenuity. Sometime after this, the rover will finally begin its search for its first sample of Martian rock and sediment.