Welcome to the first installment of the Perseverance blog!
It has been a little less than six months since Perseverance made its spectacular landing on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. After an incredibly busy period of checking out the rover, successfully completing Ingenuity helicopter flights, and embarking on the mission’s first science campaign, we now have a little breathing room to provide more insight to the mission, its operations, and its people.
The main objective of the Perseverance mission is to seek evidence of possible ancient life in the rover’s landing site, Jezero crater. Billions of years ago this crater hosted a lake more than 40 kilometers in diameter and hundreds of meters deep, strong evidence that the very cold and dry surface of Mars was once very different, and far more habitable. Using a suite of powerful science instruments on board Perseverance, the science team will unravel the history of rocks deposited on the crater floor, deciphering when and how those rocks formed and what environmental conditions were like. The team will be looking for any biosignatures that could have been left by Martian organisms in or around Lake Jezero. While exploring, the rover will also collect a suite of about 35 rock samples that may be brought back to Earth by future missions presently being considered by NASA and the European Space Agency. Return of these samples would allow the full arsenal of terrestrial laboratories to seek more detailed clues about ancient Mars, and would for the first time challenge scientists with the extraordinary question of how to look for the remains of life that might be completely distinct from our own.
We are the project scientist (Farley) and project manager (Trosper) of the mission and it is our job to together lead the operation of Perseverance in its science mission over the years ahead. A Mars rover mission is a unique undertaking involving extremely sophisticated robotic hardware operating in a very hostile environment many millions of kilometers from earth. The mission team consists of hundreds of scientists and engineers who work in intense coordination to make the magic happen. Nearly every day since Perseverance landed we have watched as the team executed the daily cycle: acquire data from the rover, interpret the science data to develop a plan for the next day’s activities and observations, and implement those activities into code and beam them up to the rover at the end of the workday. All of this is done under enormous time pressure and with extraordinary care to eliminate mistakes that could bring the mission to a premature end. Perseverance is a technological marvel, but it is impossible to overestimate the importance and intricacy of the intimately choreographed human machinery that actually makes Perseverance go.
This blog is an opportunity for our team members to share their discoveries and experiences contributing to this amazing undertaking.