Over 230 members of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Science Team gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA during June 2022 for a week of in-person science discussions, rover operations, and instrument team meetings. For many, it had been over 3 years since we’d seen each other face-to-face. For others, including many of our early career students and post-docs who joined the team recently, it was the first opportunity to match faces with names and voices experienced only online. Perseverance’s Science Team is international--representing more than a dozen countries around the world--so working remotely during the first year of Perseverance’s mission on Mars came pretty naturally. But we’ve still missed the team-building opportunities and close collaborations that come with working together and talking in-person.
As the team gathered and prepared to head inside (masks required!) for 4 days of science presentations and discussions, joy and excitement were the dominant feelings. Colleagues reconnected, met each other for the first time, and scrambled to pick up mission swag left over from the launch and landing events. Since not everyone on the team could join us at JPL, we also had a call-in option so all could participate.
The meeting kicked off with a welcome and introductory remarks from Project Scientist Ken Farley and Project Managers Jennifer Trosper and Art Thompson. We then began the first of several early career lightning sessions during which post-doc and graduate student team members had the floor to introduce themselves and share their research and some fun facts. We spent the next two days discussing new advances in our understanding of the Jezero crater floor rocks that Perseverance spent its first year exploring and sampling. We heard an update from the atmospheric scientists on the Perseverance team and took a break for our first Science Team photo in years! We then dug into the delta--which the rover is currently exploring--discussing how the sediments were deposited and which outcrops might best preserve signs of ancient life.
The last day of the meeting began with inspiring remarks by JPL’s new director, Dr. Laurie Leshin, a long-time supporter and advocate of the Mars sample return effort. The team had a lively discussion of which samples to collect at the Jezero delta, then we turned our attention to the future of Mars 2020, discussing exciting targets of exploration beyond the Jezero delta and the ongoing coordination between the Mars 2020 and Mars Sample Return efforts.
It was definitely a challenge to plan an in-person meeting of this size during the COVID-era, and it couldn’t have happened without a dedicated team at JPL who worked for months to help us pull it off. The Mars 2020 Science Team finished the week with renewed excitement and enthusiasm for the mission ahead, so it was well worth it!