WRITTEN BY: Mo Juenger, World News Editor
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Thursday. The mission is full of firsts: the first attempt to search for signs of past life, the first helicopter trip around the red planet and the first audio recording on Mars.
The rover will search for life on Jezero Crater, where a lake existed on the planet approximately 3.9 billion years ago. Scientists are looking for microfossils which could provide evidence that life once existed there.
Perseverance, which traveled at a speed of 12,000 miles per hour as it entered Mars’ atmosphere, was one of the trickiest landings yet for NASA scientists. It is the heaviest rover the agency has ever attempted to land. The landing site for Perseverance was also one of NASA’s smallest and most difficult, a former lake bed that is only 28 miles wide.
Its mission will last for two years, which will begin with a reconnaissance phase. During this phase, Perseverance will release its newest innovation: the helicopter, Ingenuity.
Scientists hope that Ingenuity will be the first helicopter to fly outside of Earth. While Perseverance is roughly the size of an SUV, Ingenuity is significantly smaller weighing only four pounds.
The helicopter will not take off for at least one month, and it’s expected to use only solar power, according to a post from Perseverance’s Twitter account. However, this makes the helicopter more susceptible to environmental circumstances.
“If it survives the brutally cold Martian nights, the team will attempt flight,” the Perseverance account said.
Ingenuity successfully underwent its first battery charge Saturday. If it flies, it will mark a major scientific milestone that some have likened to the importance of the landing of the first Martian rover, Sojourner.
The rover is also equipped with another high-tech gadget: the first microphone capable of recording extraterrestrial sounds.
“Having a sound of another planet is another way that we can start to realize that it feels familiar,” Nina Lanza, an expert in planetary exploration from the U.S. Department of Energy, said.
Previous spacecrafts on Mars have been equipped with microphones, yet none have ever successfully returned data to Earth. The Perseverance’s microphone successfully recorded the sound of its landing on the red planet, and scientists consider this a promising sign for future recordings.
Anyone interested in the Perseverance can learn more at mars.nasa.gov by looking through interactive maps of Mars tracked by the rover’s movements.